Two words about Mary from the Bible describe most of our lives in December: “in haste.”
We run in haste to the mall, post office and grocery store. In haste, we rush to office parties and pageants.We pack the bags and the car, or race to get the house clean and ready.
There are only 24 days in the month to fit everything in, soall must be done with haste. While the month of December has moments of joy, for many, words like “stressed” and “overwhelmed” more adequately describe the norm.
But if there were ever a woman who had an excuse for feeling overwhelmed and needing to be “in haste” in the days leading up to Christ’s birth, it would be Mary.
Think about all she had on her shoulders. The angel Gabriel just announced that she’s having a baby. That alone would be big news! But Gabriel goes on to tell her that this baby will be not any ordinary child, but the Prophesied One — Israel’s long-awaited Messiah-King. And that’s not all: Mary will conceive this child not by natural means, but as a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. There’s never been a conception like that before! Her child will be the holy Son of God.
That’s a lot to take in from one short conversation with an angel. It’s fair to say Mary has a lot going on in her life in the days leading up to Christ’s birth. Even if she were living by today’s standards, everyone would have understood if she didn’t get Christmas cards out that year or if her house were not spotlessly clean or the gifts arrived late in the mail.
Still, Luke’s account of the Visitation reveals that, even with all she’s now responsible for, Mary doesn’t turn in on herself. She remains focused on God and on other people in the midst of the sudden turn of events in her life.
After hearing the angel’s astounding message, Mary goes “inhaste” to the hill country of Judea to serve her elder kinswoman Elizabeth during her pregnancy with John the Baptist and to share in the joy over all that God is about to accomplish in Israel (Luke 1:39).
I know when I have much to do I’m not always like Mary. I can be tempted to close in on myself — focusing on my projects, my problems, my concerns — and not be as attentive to those around me. But Mary was not like that. Luke informs us that right after receiving this message, Mary goes “in haste” to serve Elizabeth.
This particular phrase can be translated as “with thoughtfulness” or “with eagerness,” which may get more to the heart of the matter. She’s eager to help Elizabeth; eager to be with her cousin. She does not allow herself to be so “busy” and “overwhelmed” that she misses out on what matters most: the people in her life and her relationship with God.
What Matters Most
A young girl woke up on Christmas Eve excited to come downstairs and share this special day with her mom. Only one more dayt ill Christmas! But Mom was in a flurry of activity, cleaning, cooking, baking and wrapping.
Relatives were coming to town for the annual Christmas Eve dinner, and there was a lot of pressure to have everything just right. There was no time that morning to play with her daughter, read stories and make the Christmas cookies as she had hoped.
“Maybe this afternoon after I get everything ready,” the mom told her daughter. But the day quickly passed, and Mom was still too overwhelmed. Each time the child asked for some attention, the mom increasingly got frustrated. “Things aren’t ready yet — you’ll just have to wait!” she said with a stressed-out tone of annoyance.
But when snow started falling and she noticed her daughter staring out the window with tears in her eyes, the mom stopped what she was doing.
She took off her apron, put on her coat and boots and spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the snow with her daughter.
When the guests showed up two hours later, things were not as prepared as she had hoped. She never got to that second dessert she was hoping to make. And there were several rooms left unvacuumed. She didn’t have time to set out the nice china, and some of the last-minute presents had to be placed into gift bags instead of being wrapped. It was not a failure for a Christmas Eve dinner, but it certainly was far from her best performance. She only got a “B-minus” on her hosting that night, in her estimation. But in the end, she got an “A” on what matters most — spending time with her child.
This Advent season, we all will run “in haste.” But the crucial question God is asking us is this: Will we run in haste after what matters most?
Will we run in haste to truly encounter the people in our lives? To make time to talk to them? To take time to listen to them?
Will we run in haste to the chapel, to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? Will we run in haste to Mass? Will we run in haste to make sure we have quiet time each day for prayer — to be like Mary, keeping and pondering the mystery of the Advent season in our hearts?
Edward Sri is a theologian, author and speaker.
His newest book is Rethinking Mary in the New Testament (Ignatius Press).
More about his work can be found at EdwardSri.com.
Published by National Catholic Register Dec. 2018