Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem (1475) by Hugo van der Goes Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

God's Word on Sunday: God only asks for our obedience and trust

  • December 22, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 23 (Year C) Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

The biggest, flashiest and most famous person is not necessarily the best. 

In the Scriptures, these individuals are often not chosen by God. We call to mind Jacob, the younger brother who supplanted his elder brother Esau. Of all the strapping sons of Jesse paraded before the prophet Samuel, it was the youngest — David — who was chosen, even though he was not even present. Outward appearances count for little in the eyes of God. 

Bethlehem was a rather insignificant little village. Beyond being the place where Rachel died, its only boast was that it was the birthplace of King David. But its greatness lay in precisely that claim — it was the birthplace of Israel’s greatest king once, and so it would be again. 

Micah was a treasured prophetic text in the Jewish tradition and the evangelist Matthew repurposed it to illuminate the messianic role of Jesus (Matt 2:6). David had been promised that there would always be one of his descendants on the throne of Israel and that was gradually associated with the figure of the long-awaited Messiah. 

He would satisfy the deep yearning of the people for restoration and healing. After all, Israel and her people had suffered centuries of warfare, destruction and oppression at the hands of various foreign powers. They yearned for happiness, prosperity and peace, just as we do today. 

This would answer the cry of the psalmist: Restore us, O Lord. When God’s face shines upon us, pain and darkness flee. The prophecy is a reminder not to lose hope and become cynical and despairing. 

God is always with us even in ways that are not readily apparent. God’s mercy and compassion are never expended or depleted, and in every age they are given to us in new and unexpected ways.

God has only asked of us obedience and trust. God’s will is that we do our best to be righteous, kind and compassionate people and to be eager to share the blessings that have been given to us. 

Strangely, it is often the last thing that people are willing to do. It hits too close to home; it demands that we think, feel and act beyond our own egos and desires. It might require changing our opinions, beliefs and prejudices. 

That is simply too much and too threatening for some. It is far easier to hide behind a smokescreen of religious and pious practices, whether it be sacrifices or devotions. God has neither asked for nor desired such things and takes no pleasure in them. 

Doing the will of God is what we are asked and Jesus is the only one that has done that perfectly. A mind and heart in harmony with the will of God is the highest form of worship and sacrifice that we could possibly offer.

That is exactly what Mary offered to God. 

At the Annunciation, the angel told her things that were difficult to comprehend or accept. Though a virgin, she was to conceive and bear a son designated as Son of the Most High. He would assume the throne and kingdom of His ancestor David. 

The normal human reaction would have been skepticism and a demand for details and explanations. After all, her life would never be her own. But that was not Mary’s response — her answer was a desire for everything to be done to her according to God’s will. 

From that moment, the Word began its entrance into our world. This was evident during her visit to Elizabeth. The mere presence of Jesus, even in the womb, was enough to bring life to the child in Elizabeth’s womb. 

Her blessing and recognition had been granted in the past to women of Israel who had saved the people by their courageous and selfless actions: blessed are you among women. But her greatest praise for Mary was for her willingness to believe that what God had told her would come to pass. 

Faith is absolute trust in God and a willingness to put one’s entire life on the line for that faith. Doubt and fear destroy our lives and the world we live in, while faith, hope and obedience to God’s will usher in the kingdom of God. What will be our response?

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