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