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Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. With each new candle lit on the Advent wreath, we are inching closer and closer to Bethlehem. The last two weeks, we followed John the Baptist in the wilderness, preparing the way of Jesus. Today, Jesus is finally here, albeit as an embryo in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
Today the Holy Gospel gives us the story of the Visitation. Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Both are pregnant. Elizabeth, with John the Baptist. And Mary, with Jesus the Son of God. In these two figures, Mary and Elizabeth, we see the Old and New Testaments pictured, the old Israel and the new Israel, the Church.
Mary is a picture of the Church in three ways: she bears Jesus, she believes God's Word concerning Jesus, and she is blessed in Jesus. Mary is an icon of the Church in that she is bearing, believing, and blessed.
First, bearing. What child is this? The Son of God from all eternity. In the Old Testament, God took up residence above the Ark of the Covenant. For nine months, Mary is the new Ark, for God has taken up residence in her. Christ is also with his Church by word, wafer, water, and wine. The Church, like Mary, bears Christ's Word, his body and his blood, for our forgiveness and life.
Second, believing. Elizabeth says, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." Gabriel spoke and by God's grace, Mary believed the Word, and conceived in her womb the Son of God through faith. When we hear the Word through our ears, we receive him who was made flesh for us. By faith, we are made righteous, holy, and justified through the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us of all sin.
Third, blessing. Elizabeth exclaims, "Blessed are you among women! Blessed is the fruit of your womb!" Truly, Mary is blessed. But not because of anything she did. Mary is blessed because of what God has done to her. "The Mighty One has done great things to me," she will sing in her Magnificat song. That is the reason all generations will call her blessed- what God has done. It's a reminder that God's favor and blessing comes only by grace, the unearned and undeserved favor and kindness of God, which is ours in Christ our Redeemer.