4th Sunday of Advent – December 20, 2020
I’d be surprised if most of us haven’t watched, at some time or another, the Christmas classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. You might recall that the main character, George Bailey, saw himself as a poor soul – a no body, especially in comparison to his war-hero brother. To George, everybody else seemed better.
Yet, George’s understanding of himself was a far cry from how he was perceived by others. He looked after his fellow townsfolk with compassion. He fought against injustice. He was there to help – always – without ever counting the cost to himself. By the end of the movie, you may recall, George Bailey – an unlikely hero – was overwhelmed with the gratitude of his neighbors and friends, one person remarked, “George is the richest man in town” – rich not because of dollars and cents – but rich because of his selfless, generous spirit – rich, ultimately because of his faith and his trust in God.
This familiar story carries with it a message rooted in the wisdom of the ages. Our faith tradition is replete with stories of individuals being called upon by God and to do things that they just didn’t want to do or felt equipped to embrace.
Moses wasn’t too enthused to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and the grip of Pharaoh. “Somebody else could do a better job!” … Jonah didn’t want to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. … And in today’s gospel, the story of Christmas begins with Mary, a simple, uneducated Jewish girl who is at the very bottom of her society’s social ladder and yet is being asked to participate in the miracle of salvation.
In the verses prior to today’s passage, we’re told by the scripture writer that Mary was deeply troubled by the invitation to give birth to the Savior. “How can this be since I do not know man.?” … Imagine – the God who created all things makes the fulfillment of his promise to save his people dependent upon one of the most dispossessed and powerless of his creatures.
And yet, Mary’s response to God’s invitation to participate in his plan of salvation is simple and clear, Yes … I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. What’s even more amazing is that Mary follows this incredible invitation with the most selfless of gestures. She travels – pregnant and likely on foot – a 78-mile trek to care for her older cousin, Elizabeth, who is also preparing to give birth.
Despite the illogic of God’s ways – to our feeble minds at least – God continues to call people to assume awesome, unbelievable and overwhelming responsibilities – to perform tasks for which they feel ill equipped – provided that they are humble and wise enough to TRUST in his wisdom and power.
Interestingly enough, if you scan the scriptures, you will discover that most of the people chosen by God to bring to pass his plan for creation are ordinary individuals – like me and you. … And their responses to God are not at all unlike what you and I are often inclined to say, “Why me?” “I’m too young.” “I’m too old.” “I’m not ready.” “I’m far too imperfect to do your will.” Yet, the fact is that God calls every one of us to some work that will proclaim his life and his love in our midst – to accomplish some task that will contribute to the proclamation of the Gospel message of his Son, Jesus.
What is the work that God is calling you to assume? … Moses was called to lead his people with justice and integrity. Some of us have been called to leadership roles – in the Church, in our community, in our place of employment – in our homes, as a parent or caregiver. … Jonah was called to preach repentance and change to a people in need of direction in their lives.
All of us are called to speak the truth and to challenge others to grow, to be better, and to change. Sometimes God calls us to preach to a congregation – and maybe he’s calling you to preach right in your family or workplace – to preach by your words, but much more likely by the example of your lives, the choices you make and the service that you extend to the lives God gives to your care. Yet, don’t ever think for a minute that God only calls the perfect and the pure to be his witnesses. … Remember why he came – to heal the broken, to forgive the sinner and to give us all a way to salvation.
In life we are all called by God to participate in his divine plan. … We may be afraid. We may be confused. We may be troubled by the request. We may think of all kinds of reasons why the invitation doesn’t make sense or the task is beyond us – but it is in these every day annunciations that God changes the course of history to bring about his plan to save his people.
So, regardless of where God has placed us at this moment in our lives, may we embrace the words of the angel spoken to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” May we serve the people whom God gives to our care in a selfless way. And may we make as our own those words of Mary first spoken St. Luke’s gospel, “I am your servant, O God. Let it be done to me as you say.”