by Father Mike Stubbs
Women who are pregnant sometimes mention that the child is kicking in the womb.
I suppose that means that the baby is lively and energetic, that it is healthy. But in ancient times, people sometimes saw a deeper meaning in these movements. For example, when Rebekah is pregnant with the twins Jacob and Esau, their kicking in the womb is interpreted as an omen of their future rivalry.
“The children in her womb jostled each other so much that she exclaimed, ‘If this is to be so, what good will it do me!’ She went to consult the Lord and he answered her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, two peoples are quarreling while still within you’” (Gn 25:22-23a).
From the two babies will originate two nations, Israel and Edom, which will view each other as rivals.
Similarly, in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 1:39-45, Elizabeth understands the kicking in her womb as more than just the sign of a healthy baby. She describes her unborn child as leaping for joy. That is appropriate, since her child will be John the Baptist, who will announce the arrival of the Messiah. The unborn John recognizes the presence of the unborn Jesus.
It is the sound of Mary’s voice that triggers John’s leaping: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb.” Naturally, there is a close connection between the mother and the unborn child. John, although unborn, recognizes the voice of Jesus’ mother.
Similarly, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is able to recognize that Mary’s unborn child is the Messiah: “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’”
When John the Baptist recognizes the presence of Jesus, he jumps for joy, even while he is still in the womb of his mother. That suggests to us that the proper response to Jesus’ presence is joy.
Last week, the readings for Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word for “rejoice,” emphasized joy. They encouraged us to rejoice at the presence of Christ who comes among us. This final Sunday of the Advent season keeps us in that frame of mind.