Jesus Our Shepherd
Luke 1:39-45
4th Sunday of Advent

Within a few days Mary set out and hurried to the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zacharia’s house and greeted Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit in your womb! But why am I so favored that the mother of the Messiah should come to me? The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished!”

Homily for 21 December 2003
Rev. Francis Baiocchi

(based upon Dennis R. Clark’s Sunday Morning Reflections on the Word)

Once upon a time there was a terrible shipwreck on a stormy sea. Only one man survived, washed ashore on a tiny island with little more than the clothes on his back. For quite a while he hoped to be rescued, but in time he realized he had to make a life for himself right there on that island. So he did. He taught himself to fish and to hunt, to garden and to cook, and he built a small wooden shelter overlooking the bay where he had been washed ashore. It took a lot of time to learn and to build all this, but he was patient. He even carved a wooden flute play each night at sundown.

On his ventures the man had discovered a look-out spot at the very top of a mountain near the center of the island. He would often climb to that spot to view the horizon for passing ships, but he never saw any. One particular day he hiked all the way up to that spot again looking for a possible rescue ship to pass by; but as he arrived at the summit his eyes focused instead on the scene far below where he saw a tower of smoke rising up from the shelter he had built – a shelter that was now engulfed in flames.

He ran down the mountain quickly to try to save what he could, but it was too late to save anything. By the time he arrived his shelter was in ashes. His vegetable garden, his tools, his bow and arrows, even his flute – everything he had made with his hands over so long a time – had been burned and totally destroyed by the fire. He wept, he raged. He cursed God no end. Finally as night came he collapsed on the sandy beach exhausted and fell into a deep sleep.

Soon after he had fallen asleep, he was awakened by a crew of sailors who had rowed ashore from a large cruise ship. As the man tried to shake off the effects of his sleep, he questioned the sailors, “After all this time how did you know I was here?” “Ah,” said the captain, “when we were sailing by a short time ago, we saw the smoke from your signal fire!”

When all seems lost in our lives, and we have that keen sense of emptiness and loneliness, God has a way of surprising us. The shipwrecked survivor was certainly surprised! And that’s the lesson of today’s Gospel too. Elizabeth is a much older woman without children – a situation that was considered shameful among her people. Mary is a unmarried, pregnant peasant girl, a situation also considered shameful among her people. Yet despite their supposedly shameful situations, their hearts remain open, and these two come together in Zachariah’s house to share their secret.

Even as they were meeting, God was filling them both with new life -- life that will become a joy for all their people and that remains a joy for us today. So Mary and Elizabeth hug each other and cry for joy because they know that God has not forgotten his people or left them empty, and God never will.

Just as the shipwrecked survivor on that island was at the point of final despair, the rescue occurred! There’s a lesson for us here. What is it that is causing us despair today: a failed relationship, a frightening illness, a loss of work and paycheck, an addictive habit that wont go away? Just as with the shipwrecked survivor, God gives us new life when we least expect it. The darkest part of the night soon surrenders to the dawn.

For you and for me this Advent season, God is again opening the doors of a new world to fill our lives with hope and joy. When our lives appear to be crumbling, when we are forced out of what has been comfortable and familiar to us, it is then that God is challenging us to stretch our minds and open our hearts. As with the shipwrecked sailor, so it is with us. When we are at the point of despair and hopelessness, God comes to take our hands and lead us forward. Just remember to hold on…tightly!