In the Gospel readings for today, Mary journeys to visit Elizabeth in Judah. As I read this particular passage, I saw Elizabeth as an example of authentic welcoming, even when there was an unannounced visitor at her door who would share unplanned and surprising news. Elizabeth asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me,” as if she truly recognizes the gift of those moments.
During my undergraduate years at Loyola University Chicago, I spent just over a week in Kingston, Jamaica on a service immersion. Towards the end of the experience, our group visited residents at a nursing home, and I had the opportunity to spend time with a woman who was relaxing in a rocking chair. Not long after sitting down with her, she grabbed my hand and began crying as she tried to communicate her desire to return home. My initial internal response was panic. I felt as if I was not qualified to receive this woman’s concerns in any meaningful way. I didn’t have any of the right answers, and for several minutes, I was preoccupied with that fear of not having the answers.
But I quickly realized that I didn’t need to have the right answers. I could not fix anything or save anyone, and I did not want to. I just wanted to sit with her as she cried silent tears and to hold her hand. I needed to see Christ in the unplanned encounter with this person who invited me into her brokenness. After letting go of my own plan for this interaction, I found God alive and at work in this woman’s sacred and very human story.
For me, Advent is a time to cultivate a renewed awareness that Christ is found in the unexpected surprises, in the moments that we miss if we are too preoccupied with our own plans. Elizabeth did not miss the profound significance of Mary’s sudden appearance at her door. Elizabeth did not fail to welcome Mary in and to recognize Christ. Advent calls us to to do the same, to recognize Christ in friends and strangers alike and to welcome them into our lives, knowing that God is in the simple gift of surprise.
Questions to guide reflection and prayer:
1. When in our lives have we failed to see Christ in someone or something unexpected?
2. When have we let our plans obscure the view of God’s endless and unplanned grace?
3. How are we called this Advent to welcome Christ in the everyday surprises and unpredictable joys like Elizabeth?
Emily Cybulla is a first year medical student at SLU. She graduated in 2015 from Loyola University Chicago and served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Syracuse, NY at L’Arche, an intentional community of folks with and without disabilities, before starting at SLU.