Finally, the weeks of yearning, waiting, dreaming and wondering have come to an end. The restless longings of the world are fulfilled.
At long last, the new “Star Wars” movie has opened.
I haven’t seen it yet, and will probably wait a couple weeks until the crowds thin. But I remember seeing the original movie in a theater 38 years ago. We think of it now as simply “Star Wars,” but true aficionados know it by its full title: “Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope.”
Well, “A New Hope” is what this season is about—and I’m not just talking about the hopes of fans waiting to see the new blockbuster.
I’m talking about Advent, and the hope of a world that has been waiting for Christ. In the gospel we just heard, he finally arrives—brought to Elizabeth, as he is brought to all of us, through Mary.
This is a beautiful scene, rich with meaning, with famous words that have become part of one of the most familiar prayers in the world, the Hail Mary. “Blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Elizabeth’s wonder and joy at all this could be our own, as she asks: “How does this happen to me?”
How do we merit something so overwhelming, and so humbling?
Here is a new chapter in human history.
Here is, truly, a new hope.
By coincidence, the same day the new “Star Wars” movie premiered, there was another important piece of news: the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had approved a second miracle for the canonization of Mother Teresa. Next year, she will become, officially, St. Teresa of Calcutta.
I can’t think of a more fitting patroness for the Year of Mercy. Her message of sacrificial love, especially for the poor and the outcast, is one the world needs to hear, especially now.
It is a fitting message, too, for Advent.
In fact, when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize during Advent, in December of 1979, Mother Teresa actually spoke about this gospel passage, with words that remind us all what this season is truly about.
It is about waiting, yes.
But it’s also about giving.
Ultimately—as with so much of our faith—it is about giving love.
Because God so loved the world that he did this for us. He became one of us.
And Mary couldn’t keep that news to herself.
“As soon as Jesus came into Mary’s life,” Mother Teresa said, “immediately she went in haste to give that good news…and Elizabeth’s child recognized the Prince of Peace, he recognized that Christ has come to bring the good news for you and for me.”
And Mother Teresa explained to her audience the fullest meaning of the incarnation:
“We have been created in his image,” she said. “We have been created to love and be loved, and then he has become man to make it possible for us to love as he loved us. He makes himself the hungry one – the naked one – the homeless one – the sick one – the one in prison – the lonely one – the unwanted one.”
God so loved us that he became us—all of us, especially the weakest.
We can only wonder, with Elizabeth:
“How does this happen to me?”
Elizabeth probably never imagined it happening to her. The spiritual writer Fae Malania has written that Elizabeth, after all, wasn’t anybody special. “She wasn’t blessed among women,” she wrote, “someone else was. It wasn’t her child who was the Messiah, it was someone else’s. She had a walk-on part. But she was the first, not counting angels, to greet Our Lady and to stand in the Presence of the Lord.”
Elizabeth could be anyone. But she could also be everyone.
We are all Elizabeth, astounded and astonished at the wonders God can do—and like her, we open our arms in gratitude and joy as Christ enters our lives.
Christmas, we know, is just days away. But it isn’t just December the 25th. It isn’t just a day with a tree and presents and parties. Christmas happens for us as it happened for Elizabeth: it is whenever and wherever Christ comes in to our world.
Christmas is a nun caring for a leper in Calcutta.
It is a priest anointing a grandmother in a hospital or baptizing a baby at that font.
It is giving a stranger your coat, or whispering for your enemy a prayer.
It is the host we are about to receive—God giving himself to us in something as fragile as a leaf, as small as a coin.
Christ comes every day, in unexpected ways. Every day, in a sense, is Christmas.
Elizabeth discovered that. When Mary stepped into her home, Elizabeth may well have been thinking the same awestruck thought as the centurion, whose words we will repeat in just a few minutes:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.”
How does this happen to me?
As we enter the last hours of Advent, and near the celebration of Christ’s birth, let us carry that question in our hearts, and strive to welcome him like Elizabeth—and not just this one day of the year, but every day.
The first “Star Wars” movie, as I mentioned, was called “A New Hope.” The latest one that just opened is titled “The Force Awakens.”
It is my prayer that the approach of Christmas will awaken in each of us the greatest of forces, the one Blessed Teresa of Calcutta embodied so passionately: love.
This is what it is all about.
It is the one overwhelming force that Christ came to incarnate, the force that Elizabeth and the child in her womb both recognized, the force that can save souls and truly ignite “a new hope” for a world so desperately in need.
This season, may THAT force be with you—and with all of us.