Joyful Encounters

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” Luke 1: 39-40


During those days. During those days of waiting, growing, suffering, wondering, and preparing, Mary did something I probably would never have dared to do. In the midst of a great mystery unfolding and in a state of vulnerability, she set out. She did not wait until Jesus was grown and neatly groomed to share Him with those around her. Rather, she began revealing His goodness to the world even while He was still hidden in her womb. What was the result? Joy set free in the human heart. 


Luke’s gospel says she went in haste. I’ve always struggled to imagine Mary rushing or moving at a frantic pace; I think her haste in this story displayed, first and foremost, a deep trust in God. Realizing the urgency of her vocation as Christ-bearer, she did not push it off until a more opportune time. She might have left laundry drying on the line or forgone packing a meal. Maybe she failed to lock her door or check the weather forecast before she left (what did they do without the weather app back then?). This is not to say Mary threw caution to the wind and made a rash decision to travel, but she certainly placed her trust in the Lord when she made a journey that might have been far more comfortable to put off until later. For her, love overshadowed risk. I, on the other hand, often make every excuse to wait another hour, day, or year before embarking on the journey the Lord calls me to. My yeses to the Lord often sound more like, “Yes, Lord, when X, Y, and Z fall into place” instead of “Yes, Lord! Let’s go right now!” But the mother of Jesus did not wait for her circumstances to be perfect before she set out living her mission. Mary simply set out. 


So what was that mission? What was important enough to compel a pregnant mother to hike for a week over rugged terrain? It was simple: Mary had been called to bear Christ to the world. She had been called to a joyful encounter, and she set out knowing God had already filled her with more than enough to see her mission through. She, as the first to receive Christ in His fullness, made a perfect model of the necessity to share Him. When we are filled with His love, we have a responsibility to share it without hesitation. 


In these days of our own preparations for Christmas day, we share a mission like our Mother’s. We are called to joyful encounters, even when our circumstances feel less-than-perfect. If the cookies aren’t yet baked, the presents aren’t yet wrapped, and the tree is not yet decorated, there is still room for joy. We must not limit God’s graces to our prepared hearts and homes, but rather give Him the pleasure of entering into our preparations, too. Instead of convincing ourselves that the joy of the Lord is made for special occasions like Christmas day alone, we must learn to let it break forth, even when it seems hidden by the rest of the world. Expectant Mary’s journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth is a magnificent model of how to let joy break forth during these hectic last days of the Advent season. 


First, we must hold Christ in our souls just as Mary held Him in her womb. Are we giving Him opportunity to enter into our hearts, souls, and minds? Setting aside a specific time for prayer, attending a daily Mass, or making the effort to go to Confession are all ways to imitate Mary’s “yes” to the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in her. Without cooperating with and recognizing Christ’s presence in our own hearts, the cause for joy is quite elusive. 


Then, we must behold. Mary’s journey to Elizabeth’s home was undoubtedly driven, in part, by a desire to share in the joy of her pregnant cousin. She knew that God was not confined to the mystery taking place in her own womb, but that He was working miracles worth beholding in the lives of others, too. Are you rejoicing in the triumphs, both big and small, of loved ones as much as you delight in your own victories? Consider calling a friend or family member and asking them to share a recent source of joy. 


Finally, we must allow ourselves to be beheld. Luke 1: 41-43 portrays Elizabeth’s experience when she comes face-to-face with Mary: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” Mary had to learn the discomfort of a compliment (and a big one, too) very quickly. For some of us, recognizing Christ in others might be far easier than identifying His goodness in our own selves. But the Lord works splendors when we allow His grace to flow through us freely. As Christ awakened joy in John and Elizabeth from Mary’s womb, we must trust that the gift of Christ alive in each one of us can bring forth great joy, too. 


Wishing you many joy-filled encounters during these last days of Advent and the start of the Christmas season. 

 

Kathryn Hurd is a senior studying strategic communications and anthropology at K-State. She's a maker, a walker, a butterfly-spotter, and a lover of a good children's book. You can read more of her words, ramblings, and random interests here.

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