It is only fitting that as we approach Christmas that the figure of Mary should be at the heart of our Gospel reading this Fourth Sunday of Advent and that Elizabeth should have a supporting role. In Luke’s understanding of God’s plan of salvation, the lowly are chosen by God in order to humble the mighty, and the poor are chosen to bear God’s message to the rich who are stubborn of heart. Both Elizabeth and Mary fit this description perfectly.
Elizabeth is barren and supposedly too old to bear a child; Mary is a peasant girl, whose status puts her at the margins of society. Both are women and therefore considered voiceless in the society of their day. Yet both women are chosen for a grand purpose. Both women cooperate with God’s grace with little doubt. “For nothing will be impossible for God.” The story of Mary’s yes to the will of God is told on this Sunday immediately prior to the celebration of the Lord’s birth because it is important for the Church to understand that salvation depends upon humanity’s free will and cooperation with God. God’s plan of salvation is not forced upon us; we must say yes to his designs.