Reflection for the Vigil of the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Jeanne d’Arc Kernion, OSB | December 18, 2021
Tonight’s scriptures could be called, “In the Company of Women.” And what a remarkable group: Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, all women of immense faith, women who are such models for us as we live our Advent. And they had so much in common.
They are all women who did not expect pregnancy; two of them too old and suffered ridicule, the other just engaged. When we meet Hannah, she has been praying for a child, and has been made fun of because she is barren. Elizabeth is past child-bearing years, and we know she suffered, too, when she says in Luke, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” (Luke 1: 25) Mary is young and not yet married when she learns that she is to have a Son. We could say that their pregnancies come as a surprise to all of them.
Another similarity is that they all know the name of their child before its birth. The child born in answer to Hannah’s prayer is given the name Samuel before he is born. Elizabeth and Mary are both told the names of their sons prior to their births.
A further similarity is between their responses. Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving prefigures Mary’s Magnificat, which follows today’s gospel (1 Sam 1:11). Hannah begins: “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God,” while Mary’s prayer begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.” Elizabeth says happily when Mary comes that the child leapt in her womb. She is perhaps the first person to recognize Jesus when she says: “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Luke 1:43-44)
Samuel, John, Jesus: all sons who have most essential roles in salvation history, though Samuel’s role comes much earlier and is different than that of the other two. It is Samuel who chooses David, Jesus’ ancestor, to be king of Israel. Later, it is John who prepares the way for Jesus’ ministry. And, of the greatest importance, it is Jesus, our Savior, whose coming changes our lives completely.
These three women: mothers of such unusual sons. But was their only role to give birth to them? Perhaps that would have been sufficient, but certainly there was more. Hannah, as soon as her son is weaned, brings him to the temple at Shiloh and dedicates him to the Lord, saying to Eli, “For this child, I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition I made to him. Therefore… as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” (1 Sam 1:27-28) Yet every year she brings him a new cloak, and I doubt that she did it in silence.
We know little about Elizabeth’s role in her son’s life. But, think, could John have sacrificed as much if he had not been taught that what God wants comes first? And, perhaps, she even told him about this cousin of his who would play an even greater role than he would, and whose way he would prepare.
We know more about Mary’s influence on Jesus, even to that of her correcting him for having stayed in the temple and caused Joseph and her much worry. We know she is also quick to tell him more wine is needed. Most importantly, as she remains beneath the cross and sees her son die, she is the main witness to the world’s salvation. Finally, all three of these women give their sons back to God, so to speak.
What is the message these stories give us? During this Advent time, we are in the company of these unusual women. What models they are! We see them all trusting and humble, and all recognizing God’s working in their lives, just as we are called to do. They all make the tremendous sacrifice of giving up their sons. They prayed, they sacrificed, they loved, and did this as they waited.
So we have much in common with them. Advent calls us to do what they did. It is a special time for prayer and sacrifice. We are called to acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, to spend more time in His presence. And we accompany our prayer with sacrifice, giving up each day that which blocks God’s coming into our hearts. We do this with love, so that we will be ready when Christ comes. Like these women, we, too, wait.
But our waiting is different. As we wait like Mary for the coming of Jesus, and like these other women for their sons, we do so with a different assurance. We wait for the Son, Jesus, and we know that he not only came and that his coming brought our salvation, but that, on Christmas, he will come again. Yes, Advent is our time of waiting for our Son.