We humans are a powerful bunch. One of our three-second smiles can transform a friend’s troubled outlook into joy. A single thoughtful compliment can put a bounce in the step of a colleague who’s been feeling dejected as of late. An arm wrapped around the shoulders of our contrite offspring quickly returns peace to his or her little world. These small efforts pale in the light of the saints and heroes who’ve walked this earth. Still, I think any one of these special people would assure us that their small efforts to love their fellow humans were precisely what empowered them to do the things which we consider to be extraordinary.
If given the chance, I think each of us could assemble a long list of the people who’ve influenced us most over the course of our lives. Their contributions to who we have become made a difference regardless of their stature in the world at large. In my life, even the powerful interactions which fell on the negative side of things instilled wisdom which eventually made an important difference in me.
The scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent feature some of the most influential of our biblical counterparts. In the first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), Isaiah emerges once again to uplift his suffering people who are convinced that they face certain annihilation at the hands of their enemies. In this encounter, Isaiah reminds the people that God is with them. Indeed, God would remain with them regardless of the outcome of any threat which loomed overhead. In the second reading (Romans 1:1-7), Paul echoes Isaiah’s reassurance. Paul goes on to point out that he himself had persecuted the God’s people until he experienced Jesus for himself. Because of his newfound faith, Paul’s life changed forever. So it happened that on that day Paul stood with Jesus’ followers and assured them that God remained with them as well. If Isaiah’s and Paul’s great faith aren’t enough, Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:18-24) reminds us that Jesus and his parents faced uncertain circumstances from the very beginning of their life together.
I admit that our biblical heroes and heroines sometimes seem a bit too distant to have a lasting impact on me. Having written that, I must quickly add that this is never the case with Joseph and Mary. Of all of those who have come before us, this duo lived amazingly similar, yet frightfully more adverse lives than our own. Matthew chronicled the ominous adversity which Jesus’ parents dealt with from the moment they discovered he was on the way. Do you recall the angel’s visit to Mary? While Mary placed absolute faith in God’s plan for her, Joseph prepared to welcome his bride to his home. When Mary shared the news of her pregnancy, she shattered poor Joseph’s dreams. Being a just man who loved Mary dearly, Joseph decided to divorce her quietly rather than to expose her to shame and possible stoning to death (the prescribed punishment to unmarried pregnant women of the day). Amazingly, when Joseph encountered the truth about Jesus’ conception in a dream, he embraced this message and welcomed Mary and her child into his life. Joseph knew with certainty that God was with him. On that first Christmas night, Mary’s and Joseph’s faith morphed into absolute joy when they finally saw Jesus’ sweet little face. It is that face which inspired them to persist throughout the decades of uncertainty which lay ahead.
On this last Sunday of Advent, I offer my thanks for the heroes and heroines who have made me who I am. Whether I met them face to face or encountered them in books, the scriptures or prayer, I’m going to try to emulate them as I work my way to Christmas Day. I write “work” intentionally. As organized as you and I may be, we will run at one time or another this week. Whether we scramble for last-minute gifts or to respond to an unexpected request for assistance, we will do what we must for those who need us and to ready ourselves. When we respond with grace to what is asked of us, we’ll honor those who’ve contributed to who we are today, especially God who orchestrated it all. At the same time, we’ll evolve into heroines and heroes ourselves who inspire others to do the same. This is the power of our humanity!
You know, I began Advent 2016 with a message of hope. That hope evolved into joy and then into an inclination to share that joy. Today, it seems that we are called to share that joy heroically. Though our efforts often seem small to us, they mean everything to those who need us. Indeed, we humans are a very powerful bunch. What better time is there to show it?
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