Fourth Sunday of Advent – 19 December 2021

It is a puzzling image with which to bring the season of Advent to a close, this journey Mary makes. It seems such a commonplace, ordinary thing to do. I cannot help wondering what must have been running through her mind as she walked along those rocky footpaths through the hill country.

Perhaps she was thinking of Elizabeth, concerned for her. Perhaps she was looking forward simply to spending some time with someone she believed would be able to understand her, listen to her. Perhaps she knew that Nazareth would not be a safe place for her much longer. When her own pregnancy became obvious, she would certainly be ridiculed and eventually banished from town.

Actually, nowhere in the Gospel is Mary ever pictured as doing anything particularly spectacular. Her whole life was made up of entirely commonplace, everyday events. And there is a great truth in that.

No person’s life is ever made important or valuable by the things they accomplish. It is very much the other way around. Believers invest whatever they do, whatever they are, with infinite value and importance, by the faith, the willingness with which they do it.

But there is another quality to the scriptural picture of Mary that is worth noting. This too is really, I suppose, an aspect of her simplicity, her directness. She recognised what direction her life must take, and she did it. She saw no need to constantly give herself marks, or ask anyone else to do so, on how well she was or wasn’t doing. She saw no need to rate her own performance and virtue against that of anyone else. Not only did she have faith in God, she had, apparently, faith in herself, in her own ability to decide rightly and once the decision was made, there was no need to re-hash it over and over, to wonder if she had acted wisely, if she had had all the facts, and so on.

So Advent closes as it began, really, with an image of patient, trusting faith. The point is always reached sooner or later, at which all of the external evidence and supports we build up around us are not much use, and we must simply decide, “Am I going to believe or not?”

If we choose no, then we are left to face life with pretty much only our own resources. But if we choose yes, like Mary, then we lay ourselves open to the influence of infinite powers, the possibility of infinite goodness, in even the smallest and most commonplace details of our lives.

And for those who do that, hope comes easily. There is always infinitely more to come. For a people of faith, it is always Advent.