Give up self in service to God

  • December 11, 2009
Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C) Dec. 20 (Micah 5:2-5; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45)

One of the little (some translations say “least”) clans of Judea — not what a city would want to put on its promotional literature or web site. And yet who has not heard of Bethlehem? Great things definitely come from seemingly insignificant origins.

This oracle or prophecy of salvation promises a luminous future for Bethlehem. One great man has already arisen from Bethlehem, King David himself. The prophet echoes that theme: from her will come one who is to shepherd and save the nation — perhaps another Davidic king.

In so many passages in both testaments of the Bible individuals called by God for a mission protest their humble origins sometimes even referring to the insignificance of their clan or tribe. Far better to hail from an important city and an important clan or family. But God is never impressed with these arguments, for God has a habit of choosing the youngest and least of many contenders (Jacob, Gideon, Saul and David). God does not judge by appearances as humans do but reads the heart and soul. Our own cultures and societies are guided by values far removed from those of God for they are obsessed with appearance, glamour, glitz and spin. No person or group should ever despair of being the object of great love or of having a significant contribution to make to the well-being and happiness of others — even of the whole world.

God isn’t interested in sacrifices and offerings — at least not those that we are accustomed to making. For centuries sacrifices had been at the centre of Israel’s religion. But the prophets, right in line with the author of Hebrews, had repeatedly warned that God will not be manipulated or bought off. There is absolutely no substitute for justice and compassion in all human interactions.

This is the trap of religious people in every age and in every religion — to look for the easy way. Hebrews raises the bar even more: the only real sacrifice worthy of the name is the sacrifice of self and the will. In that sense Jesus made the perfect sacrifice by harmonizing His will perfectly with God the Father. And that is the sacrifice we are asked to make: giving up self for service to God and others. It is the only sacrifice that God desires, but ironically it is the sacrifice we will do almost anything to avoid making.  

What went through the minds of Mary and Elizabeth? We are not privy to their inner thoughts and feelings but perhaps we can hazard a guess. Excitement, perplexity and puzzlement, joy, even a bit of apprehension are all likely candidates. Perplexity and puzzlement are normal human reactions. The two women had consented to the process that was taking place but that does not mean that they understood everything. The several months that they spent together were an opportunity to compare notes and sort through their questions and feelings with each other. They would have been less than human if they did not feel a bit of apprehension. Elizabeth would become a mother for the first time at an advanced age. Mary was pregnant under circumstances unbelievable to many and she was vulnerable to persecution and even danger. 

But the joy and perplexity of each of the women was heightened by the dawning realization that the life growing in her womb was quite extraordinary and destined to alter the lives of so many. It seems as if the extraordinary mission of the two women has already begun even before their birth as one leaps for joy at the proximity of the other. Most people do not understand the important if sometimes hidden roles they play in the lives of others and in the history of human salvation itself.

It is not necessary for us to understand everything before we give our consent and allow ourselves to be God’s instruments for higher purposes. Mary makes this possible by her complete faith — another word for trust — in God’s loving and holy design. What miracles could we set in motion by means of total faith? There is only one way to find out.