Today as we close in on our celebration of the Birth of the Messiah, we surely note what is likely unique in the church’s arrangement of the biblical readings she suggests, not only for this particular time on the schedule of her choices for our reflection, but for any of her choices of such readings throughout the liturgical year. The readings suggested by her today are totally and exclusively assigned to women.
Of course, this should not be surprising, since we are preparing to celebrate a birth event, and even though men have a significant part to play in an occasion like this, it does not quite compare to the woman’s role in it. And, of course, with all due deference to Joseph, that wonderful companion of his virgin wife, his role was even more marginal to the birth of this remarkable infant than that of most fathers. And so, when all is said and done, recognition must be given to adoptive parents, those generous men and women anxious to experience their version both of motherhood and fatherhood by way of adopting a child in need of a loving father and mother.
But the church’s choice today, so close to the feast of the Nativity of Jesus, of an explicitly woman’s experience as worthy of our reflection, deserves our attention. And so we listen, with interest, to the comments of the book called the Song of Songs. It is the voice of a woman waiting for the love of her life as he approaches her. She knows he is close by, and calls upon nature, in the spring of its development, as it is about to bloom and blossom forth with the flower that has been moving toward full blooming and development. And she is excited with expectation. This undoubtedly corresponds to a woman on the verge of childbirth. And it is a completely woman’s experience. A man cannot quite enter into what she is experiencing no matter how closely he is bound to this event.
And St. Luke contributes his own point of view to this event, which moves beyond the general experience of pregnancy and childbirth, and focuses specifically on the birth of Jesus. He does this by narrating the touching moment when Mary and Elizabeth, cousins and both pregnant in rather remarkable ways, meet and share their mutually joyful experience of being on the verge of childbirth. Again, it is an all-women encounter. It is narrated by Luke the evangelist, but Luke, of course, was a man, and tradition has it that he was a physician, who likely assisted at many childbirths, but he tries his best to pass on to us this particularly memorable meeting of Mary and Elizabeth.
Childbirth, as we know, is a universal experience, not confined to just any one group of people, but to the Jewish people it was an especially momentous event because tied so closely into the Jewish expectation of the coming Messiah—an anticipation likely not shared by other ethnic groups. And, of course, that was exactly what stood at the heart of these two women meeting—a truly unique event. The only downside of the church celebrating this encounter was that it occurs on the shortest day of the year, possibly rushing our celebration of it too quickly to adequately appreciate it.
So with joy in our hearts we pray for all pregnant women that they deliver safely/that no abortions occur because of inadequate resources to nurture the health of the newborns/that this winter not be too harsh on the poor/in gratitude to all families welcoming new life into their midst/.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community in Louisville, Kentucky.