Yesterday the Church celebrated the nativity of John the Baptist. This day feels significant to me, since John (and his mother, Elizabeth) are my confirmation saints.
I remember the first time I read the depiction in the Gospel of Luke of the day that the Virgin Mary came to visit her elderly aunt, Elizabeth. I was sitting in the living room of a friend on Rochambeau Avenue in Providence. It was late fall. She had made pumpkin muffins and hot apple cider for a bible study we were holding. None of the participants were Christians. They were all from the Unitarian Universalist church I attended at the time. Only our host, Katherine, professed to be Christian. If I remember correctly, I wasn't even Christian yet...
We sat together and began reading from Luke. And there, in the dim light, I began to read of Mary's visit to Elizabeth... and how John leaped in his mother's womb when Mary entered the room. And somehow, inexplicably, I began to cry. Great, huge tears rolled down my cheeks for no reason at all, except that maybe, in that moment, I too was recognizing the truth of Jesus and who he was. Mary, at 3 months along, wasn't even showing yet.
Scripture says nothing of whether Elizabeth knew that Mary was pregnant. For all she knew, her younger cousin was simply showing up to help her older aunt through the last few months of pregnancy. And yet the moment Mary walks in the door, Elizabeth and the baby John in her womb, know exactly who she is carrying inside her.
Scientific American recently published an article about research that shows that when mothers are carrying their babies in the womb, some of the fetus' cells actually cross the placenta and implant in the mother. Years and even decades later, they have found cells with Y chromosomes in the brains of women who carried male children. By her third month of pregnancy, Mary already had Christ's cells in her body. How could she not have been affected by that? The actual cells of Jesus Christ were already a part of her, and Elizabeth and John, by a miracle of God's grace, knew.
I was a latecomer to Jesus. I spent the first 38 years of my life in darkness, searching for a light, but not understanding what or WHO that light was. Finally, at 38, I surrendered and accepted that Jesus is the light of the world. From that day, my life has been totally different.
So maybe, on that dark, cold night in December, with pumpkin muffins and hot cider, I was yearning for what John and Elizabeth had. Jesus was in their midst, as he is for all of us. And they recognized him for who he is. And leaped for joy.