Several weeks ago, we had the distinct privilege of making a pilgrimage to Israel, visiting all of the sites we have read about in the New Testament. The experience was spiritual, profound, and emotional and provided an enhanced perspective of the gospels. During this trip, it was pointed out that the mysteries of the rosary, some 20 decades, when taken as whole become a very succinct summary of the life of Christ and His mother Mary. All twenty of the sites prayed in the rosary, were among the many places visited during this 11 day pilgrimage. Many beautiful experiences were had and much self-reflection was experienced. The pilgrimage director provided a great deal of personal insights, at the different locations we visited. These insights, which may be more devotional than “official” Catholic teaching, lead to some thoughts on these experiences, in the context of Advent.
The Church of the Annunciation was the first stop in Bethlehem. Once again, I am amazed at the faith of these holy people to accept the pregnancy of an unwed teenage girl as the will of God. Mary, not fully understanding what was being asked, accepted God’s initiation without hesitation, as did her parents. Joseph, was intent on putting her aside quietly so as not subject her to punishment. It was stated during the pilgrimage, that Joseph, an educated Jew, understood that Mary’s child was the Messiah and that he (Joseph) was unworthy to be the guardian of such a wondrous person. God intervened so that Joseph might understand His plan and how Joseph was an important part of that plan. An interesting alternative to the interpretation normally discussed regarding Joseph’s uncertainty. Throughout this entire episode, Mary remained faithful to her promise to God. Is our faith that strong?
The Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem was our next stop. Elizabeth also fully understood the meaning of Mary’s pregnancy. So much so that her unborn child “leapt in her womb”. We have always been told that Mary was conceived and born without the stain of original sin. One of points given while discussing Mary’s visit, was that Elizabeth’s child was cleansed of original sin at the moment Mary’s presence was known. Again, Mary’s faith affected those who would play an important part in the mission of Jesus. As we know, Elizabeth’s unborn child would become the baptizer of Jesus in the Jordon River.
Speaking of the Jordon River, an interesting metaphor was provided to our pilgrim troop. As background, the Don and the Jor rivers flow into the Sea of Galilee and the outflow is the Jordon River. The Sea of Galilee equally receives its sources and gives abundantly to its outlet. The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea which has no outflow. The Dead Sea only receives, does not give. The Sea of Galilee is a living, vibrant body of water, full of life and a source of living for many people. On the other hand, anything that enters into the Dead Sea, dies. The distinction is clear. If one gives as one receives, life is abundant. If one only receives, does not give, life is meaningless. Are we like the “Sea of Galilee”?
Finally, the culmination of Advent is the Birth of Our Lord. Visiting the Church of the Nativity allowed a visual experience of the birthplace of Christ. We sang carols where shepherds were abiding on a hill overlooking Bethlehem. There was an actual Bedouin family abiding there, tending their flocks. Off in the distance, the little town can be seen and we were able to imagine the shepherds and their flocks being led by a multitude of angels toward that manger where a newborn baby was placed. What an amazing sight it must have been to see this young mother and her young husband surrounded by the glory of God, tending their child.
Cora Evans, a mystic, who had received the wounds of Christ, and is considered a Servant of God, in her book “Refugee From Heaven”, provided details of this miraculous birth. These details include an interaction with Rachel, the innkeeper’s wife, the radiance of the angelic hosts and the ministering of Michael the Archangel to the young mother. While this tale may not be theologically correct, the vision it presents provides a deeper perception of Mary and this miraculous moment.
It is well understood that the center piece of the nativity scene is the Christ child in the manger. However, without Mary’s acceptance of God’s invitation, without her absolute trust in the presence and the will of God, the Theotokos, “the bearer of God”, the “Light of the World” would not have happened in that small town, where shepherds tended their flocks. It is that sense, that my wife and I wish peace and joy to all during this special season and in the words of our pilgrimage director, may you all have a ....... “MARY” CHRISTMAS!