Today is the winter solstice, when the sun is at its greatest angular distance from the celestial equator, leading (in the northern hemisphere) to the shortest day and the longest night of the year. For northern hemisphere people, it initiates winter, possibly a depressing thought for cold-blooded people, but, by the same token, it reverses the diminishment of sunlight, and commences the six month climb toward the lightsome time of the year.
By her selection of today’s biblical readings, the church prefers to take the glass is half-full approach as preferable to the half-empty viewpoint. For she presents a delightful reading from the Song of Songs, a love duet, largely dominated by the woman who grows rapturous at the prospects of: "Hark! My lover-here he comes". This is a high-energy piece appropriate to two youthful people. They are obviously on their way to a marital union, a life together, and the begetting of a family. It is a fitting companion piece to a similar event on the church’s calendar: the beginning of a new family on the part of a young couple, Mary and Joseph, whose love must certainly reflect that of the two in the Song of Songs.
So, even though winter is just getting underway today, we can read between the lines of this Song with its remarks that "the winter is past" and "the flowers appear on the earth" and "the fig tree puts forth its figs". These are all prescient harbingers of the new life-forms about to appear, both in terms of the developing union between the couple in this Song, and also in Luke’s gospel account, where he describes Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
For Mary is already pregnant, leading Elizabeth to exclaim: "And how does this happen…that the mother of my Lord should come to me?", and Mary’s travel to the "hill country" of Judah corresponds geographically to the woman’s remark in the Song about her lover "springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills". In this selection we have a soliloquy of Elizabeth (for Mary is silent at this moment), reminiscent of the young woman in the Song, who is the main speaker, except for the last section. In sum, these readings display a feminine perspective pervading today’s Advent preparation for the birth of the Lord. For they accentuate the loving, relational, family-oriented qualities for us to appropriate as preparation for the Christmas event that is near at hand.
And they set us up to be beneficiaries of yet another beatitude (apart from those of the Sermon on the Mount): "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." It only remains for us to discover what it is that the Lord speaks to us.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.