Victor Havel once said, “The real test of a [person] is not when [they] play the role that [they] want for themselves, but when [they] play the role that destiny has for [them].”
In our gospel reading, there is a double mention of the child “leaping” in the womb of Elizabeth (Lk 1:41, 44). We can think of athletes leaping with joy in their victory. We can think of an audience of a great piece of music leaping up to applaud. This had occurred before in the Bible, when the twins born of Rebecca (Gen 25:22) leaped in her womb. That leap symbolized the role each developing fetus was destined to play in the history of Israel. Each of us is also destined to play a role in God’s unfolding history of the earth.
In Luke chapter 1 we learn that Mary is to be the mother of Jesus. This was an event eerily forecast with detailed accuracy hundreds of years before, in the prophet Micah 5:2-5a. Mary’s song is called the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). Mary’s song is like the song of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10. Hannah was to be the mother of the great judge of Israel, Samuel.
In the Magnificat, Mary describes herself as ‘favored’. She speaks of her ‘delight’. In Luke’s Gospel we have the central role of women, of poor people, and of the role of the Holy Spirit. We have the themes of the joy of the new era of Jesus that is dawning, and of the journey of faith. All these are features and themes of Luke’s Gospel which we will visit in Sundays to come.
Look at the conclusion to the Magnificat (v 54-55). Through this song, Mary recognizes that salvation is to come through the journey of Jesus through life, death and resurrection. The divine salvation (or rescue) “Is related to the covenant made by God with Abraham of old. The nation of Israel, God’s Servant, is recalled, as are the patriarchs. The remnant of Israel is to have a new meaning. ” Through, Jesus, the long history of God’s rescue will take God’s promises to Abraham, and spread and extend those promises onward to others, to Gentiles like you and me (Fitzmyer, AB v. 28, p. 361).
The leaping of the child in the womb is then of two aspects of one thing: firstly, of participating in what God has destined, and secondly, of joy in doing that.
Abraham, Sara, Rebecca, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph are all offered here as examples of what it is to participate in what God has destined.
Let us think about just one of those persons, Abraham alone: He was a refugee or migrant in the Middle East. His journey included Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. It was a time which was full of many tensions. He and his wife Sara felt at times that their lives were futile. They sometimes followed their faith and sometimes doubted their faith. At moments, Abraham had a failure of nerve. And yet Abraham and Sara participated “in the role that destiny had for them”. Through Jesus, we Gentiles are also included in the family and in the destiny of Abraham.
I understand that Massachusetts is one of the five USA states that has so far agreed to receive Syrian refugees. Think of Mary, Joseph and Jesus; Abraham and Sara; St Peter and Paul; and so many others in the Bible. They were all refugees, or migrants. Let’s welcome the stranger this Christmas.
Like Abraham of old and the Middle Eastern refugees we see today, at time we may feel futile, doubtful, and have failures of nerve. On Monday December 21st we remember “Doubting Thomas” who became the greatest worshiper of Jesus the Christ. By tradition, he took the Gospel to India.
At the start I mentioned Havel who encouraged us to play the part destined for us, which comes from God. Despite the limited nature of our faith and obedience, our open hearts to God will leap with joy as we trust God and walk with God. We will be filled with joy as God accomplishes the divine destiny that is in our lives, journey, and story.