Humility, joy and mercy

There are three great Advent themes in our readings today: humility, joy and mercy.

Greatness in human beings manifests itself in a wide variety of fascinating and often surprising ways. Just think of the variety of gifts, talents and accomplishments of the saints. One common thread in every great person is humility. Truly great people know the origin of their gifts. Jesus' whole life was marked by a beautiful humility, especially His entrance into this world.

As soon as Jesus shows up at Elizabeth's home in the hill country, even as an unborn infant in the womb, His aunt proclaims, "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" She knew in faith that God had entered the threshold of her home and reacted with humility. Six months later, Jesus would enter more visibly into our world through His birth in a stable. Furthermore, He chose for His entrance not Cairo, Rome or Athens, but the little town of Bethlehem. In our first reading for today, the prophet Micah predicted this surprising move on God's part: "You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old …"

A second great theme of Advent is the gift of joy. The unfathomable reality of Emmanuel, "God with us," would bring a wide range of reactions from those Jesus encountered while kicking up dust on this earth. Some would not react at all because they could not see Who was before them. They went along their usual way, completely oblivious to the great Gift that dwelt in their midst. Others would respond with anger and a burning desire to kill Jesus because He would wreak havoc on their way of life and betray their unenlightened expectations for the Messiah.

Some, however, would look upon Jesus with the eyes of faith and be overwhelmed with joy. Aunt Elizabeth went on to say, "For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy."

When Pope Francis came to Washington this past October, students from Marymount University in Arlington unexpectedly received tickets from the university president to attend the Mass at Catholic University in Washington. There was serious excitement about the possibility of being at a Mass with the Holy Father. However, they were completely overwhelmed when Pope Francis walked right in front of them and waved at them from about 15 feet away. (This was in response to one of the students who screamed, "Pope Francis, I love you.") The enthusiasm and joy was explosive and impossible to contain. The Vicar of Christ came into their midst and noticed them.

In faith, we know that God desires to draw very near to each of us. The Incarnation is a most powerful and enduring sign of that truth. God wants to have a personal encounter with every one of His children. In fact, He wants to have a personal, ongoing relationship with each of us. How much greater should be our joy when God draws near? Our joy should be explosive and impossible to contain.

Finally, Advent is a time to ponder God's mercy. Our relationship with God normally begins with an acceptance of His unearned and amazingly generous offer of forgiveness. Mercy is God's balm, poured out most generously, soothing and healing the soul with His tender compassion.

Pope Francis has invited every Christian in the world to focus on the gift of God's mercy by entering into an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy for the next year. In his bull proclaiming this Jubilee, our Holy Father wrote, "In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as that of a father or mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a 'visceral' love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy" (No. 6).

May our celebration of Advent bring us wonder, awe and joy as we gaze upon the face of Christ and experience His extraordinary humility and tender mercy.

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015