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Saturday, third week of Advent

December 22, 2007

Blessed Saturday!

O King of the Gentiles
And their desired One
Cornerstone who binds two into one
Come and save man
Whom You fashioned from the dust of the earth

Isaiah 2:4:
And he shall judge the Gentiles,
and rebuke many people
(see also Psalm 2:7-8, Ephesians 2:11-13, 20-21, Genesis 2:7)

I Samuel 1:24-28 (as soon as she’s weaned him, Hannah brings Samuel to the temple to give him to God)
I Samuel 2:1, 4-8 (Hannah’s song) “My heart rejoices in the Lord, my Savior”
+ Luke 1:46-56 (Mary’s Magnificat)

“Climbing down to greatness”

This title, which Fr. David Hemann gave to his song about the Magnificat, sums up the theme of today’s readings nicely. Hannah and Mary are both great women of salvation history. Hannah had the honor of bearing the great prophet Samuel, Israel’s last judge, divinely appointed to establish the royal house of David. Mary became the Mother of God Himself, He Who would inherit the throne of David His father.

Yet Hannah began as a despised barren woman. Her rival, Penninah, cruelly and persistently rubbed in the shame Hannah already suffered in her infertility (I Samuel 1:6). When Hannah poured out her misery before God, the priest Eli scolded her because he thought she was drunk (I Samuel 1:13-14). When God finally blessed her with a son, whom she returned to God as she’d promised, she exalted God, not herself, giving Him all the credit (II Samuel 2:1-10). God could trust Hannah to humbly place His gifts in His service, not abusing them for her own benefit. The rival wife who exalted herself at Hannah’s (and God’s) expense is largely forgotten, like a shooting start that burns itself out in a show of passing glory.

Mary, too, was humble. When Elizabeth praised her, Mary joyfully directed that praise to God. Yes, she was blessed, but it was only because God, Who is mighty, had done great things for her. How like Him! In Hannah’s day, in David’s life, in every age He lifts up the lowly and casts down the proud. Even Jesus was exalted because He humbled Himself: “He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave…because of this God highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:7, 9).

We tend to think of humility as a cringing, cowering thing, crawling in the slime of self-hatred. Hannah and Mary (and Jesus, for that matter) demonstrate a singing humility bursting with irrepressible joy (Mary’s “My spirit rejoices” can be translated “My spirit leaps for joy”). Humility is “climbing down to greatness”, taking the lowest place so that God can call us up higher (see Luke 14:10). It’s emptying ourselves with Jesus for love’s sake so that we can be filled with the fullness of God Himself (see Ephesians 3:14-19).

Since we’ve been talking about God’s gifts to Hannah and Mary, let’s look for Jesus in gifts in today’s treasure hunt. Absolutely everything we are and everything we have is a gift from God. “Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17). We can’t even claim credit for our very existence, any more than Mary could claim credit for conceiving Jesus. If we are to follow her example, we must put our gifts–including our very lives–at God’s disposal. “The gift you have received, give as a gift” (Matthew 10:8). We do this very naturally as we exchange tangible gifts with each other at Christmas. Whatever we do for the least of Jesus’ brothers, we do for Him (see Matthew 25:40).

But we have other gifts to pass on, whether it’s Christmas or not. Sometimes just being there is a gift. Prayer is a gift. Patience with others’ weaknesses (especially the ones that irritate us) is a gift.

Jesus Himself is God’s greatest gift to us. Sharing our faith in Him is an important way of putting this gift at God’s disposal. This may be as simple as making the sign of the cross before a meal at a restaurant or as challenging as explaining why we believe in Purgatory. Whatever the means, this gift is too good to be kept to ourselves!

May we, like Hannah and Mary, humbly put God’s gifts at His disposal for the benefit of all.

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