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Dear brothers and sisters!
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, which precedes the birth of the Lord, the Gospel narrates Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth. This is not merely a polite gesture but, with great simplicity, depicts the meeting between the Old and the New Testament. The 2 women, both pregnant, in fact incarnate expectation and the One expected. The older Elizabeth symbolizes Israel, who awaits the Messiah, while the younger Mary bears the fulfillment of this expectation to the benefit of all humanity. In the 2 women we meet and recognize first of all the fruit of their wombs, John and Christ. The Christian poet Prudentius comments: “The child in the old womb greets, through his mother’s mouth, the Lord, son of the Virgin” (Apotheosis, 590: PL 59, 970). The elation of John in Elizabeth’s womb is the sign of the end of the waiting: God is about to visit his people. At the Annunciation the archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary about Elizabeth’s pregnancy (cf. Luke 1:36) as a proof of God’s power: sterility, besides the advanced age, was transformed into fertility.
Elizabeth, welcoming Mary, recognizes that God’s promise to humanity is being realized and exclaims: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43). The expression “blessed are you among women” is used in the Old Testament of Jael (Judges 5:24) and Judith (Judith 13:1), 2 women warriors who strive to save Israel. Now however, it is said of Mary, a peaceful young woman who is about to give birth to the Savior of the world. Thus, also John’s leap for joy (cf. Luke 1:44) recalls David’s dance when he accompanied the entrance of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (cf. 1 Chronicles 15:29). The Ark, which contained the tablets of the Law, the manna and Aaron’s staff (cf. Hebrews 9:4), it was the sign of God’s presence among the people. The soon-to-be-born John exults with joy before Mary,the Ark of the New Covenant, who bears Jesus in her womb, the Son of God made man.
The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of hospitality: where there is mutual welcome, listening, making room for the other, God is present with the joy that comes from him. Let us imitate Mary in the Christmas season, visiting those who are in difficulty, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: unless we desire him we will never know the Lord, unless we expect him, we will never meet him, unless we seek him, we will never find him. With the same joy as Mary, who hastens to Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:39), we too go out to meet the Lord who comes. Let us pray that all men seek God, that it is God himself who first comes to visit us. Let us entrust our heart to Mary, the Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant, that she might make it worthy to welcome the visit of God in the mystery of Christmas.
[Following the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted those present in various languages. In English he said:]
I greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at this Angelus prayer. Today, as we approach the Solemnity of our Lord’s Birth among us, let us strive again to make room in our hearts to welcome the Christ child with love and humility before such a great gift from on high. In anticipation, let me already wish you and your families a holy and peaceful Christmas!
[Concluding in Italian, he said:]
Finally, I address a cordial greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I wish everyone a good Sunday and much peace at Christmas. Happy Sunday!
[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]