2018 – Cycle C
Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Do you have a parlor in your home? Do you know what a parlor is? It’s a word we don’t use anymore having instead “family rooms” in our open concepts homes. Thank you Property Brothers and their ilk on HGTV. You are showing your age if you use the phrase, funeral, pizza or ice cream parlor.
A parlor was a formal living room where you specifically met guests. Rectories and convents had parlors. It was a room that allowed you into a home but not quite into the inner sanctum of a home. Unlike the open concept idea there often were doors that closed off the remainder of the house.
We don’t have parlors anymore I expect because we don’t visit each other much anymore. We, Americans have an extreme sense of privacy. We feel like we are intruding. And so we have come to allow technology to replace the human encounter; the virtual valued over the real. And yes, life is different. Family lives far away. Work and school schedules are unwieldy and we seem unable to control our lives. Who has time to visit? Who is ever home?
I remember as a child every evening of Christmas week unto Epiphany my family went out and visited aunts, uncles and cousins and other families. You dressed up to visit another home, even family. You chit – chatted and were offered food and drink but this was not dinner. You were not staying that long. Visits tend to be brief. People still visit cemeteries but not as a general rule. Often there is nothing to visit with family’s scattering human remains or not interring them at all in a sacred place.
Today Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Two marginalized, pregnant women – one young, poor and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive. Do they encounter each other to celebrate or is it possibly to commiserate about their miraculous pregnancies? Either way God gives Elizabeth and Mary two gifts to remove their isolation as an unwed mother and a barren old woman. God offers them in this encounter community and a connection. The house is filled with greetings, baby’s leaping, dancing in the womb and blessings. Two impossibly pregnant women dance and sing. For nothing is impossible for God, Gabriel assures us.
May visits Elizabeth. God visits his people. That is at the heart of Christmas. When John the Baptist is born, his father Zechariah filled with the holy Spirit sings, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for God has visited…his people.” [Luke 1:68] God takes the time to visit. Why? Zechariah’s canticle goes on to tell us: to free us from our enemies and those who hate us, to show mercy, to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet along the paths of peace. Just what Mary and Elizabeth needed…and so many other people.
When was the last time you visited someone? A neighbor, friend, or family?
Who will you visit during the Christmas feasts?
When was the last time you visited a person in the hospital or nursing home?
How many people stay away because of the smells, the place or sickness in general make them uncomfortable?
When was the last time you visited those who are mourning at a wake?
We’ve become a society so afraid of anything to do with the dead, are you one of them? Grieving people remind us of the deaths and empty spaces in our lives.
Have you ever visited someone in jail, experiencing the bars and doors locking behind you? …of being watched constantly?
Those in prison are the only people Jesus specifically mentions for us to visit in his parable of the Last Judgement. “Whatever you did to one of these least sisters and brothers of mine, you did for me”. [Matthew 25: 40] We forget that Jesus and John the Baptist were both imprisoned.
Visiting isn’t as easy as in the memory of Christmastide pasts or between two laughing women. There are many people for whom a visit, the gifts of community and connection, would make whole. In which places and lives can be filled with greetings, dancing in the hearts of our souls and blessings. To know that someone remembers and has not forgotten. And they are not all found in hospitals, nursing homes and jails. Young people can also feel lonely and isolated. You needn’t be sick or widowed. Like so many of us, we can fill our days to fend off the feelings but they do not go away. Only another person can banish isolation and loneliness.
The pastoral bishop, Saint Alphonsus Liguori instructed that in visiting the sick and the dying, make your visits brief so that they will want you to return. Not bad advice for any visit. Shepherds will visit a family who are strangers frightened and alone. Magi will travel great distances for a brief visit. All because God first visited us.