At Work in Mystery

Fourth Sunday of Advent


As we approach Christmas, amid the usual commercial frenzy that surrounds us while we attempt to navigate the challenges and perils of a global pandemic, inflation and shortages, devastating natural disasters, the never-ending culture wars, rude and unapologetic divisiveness and incivility, a grave lack of compassion for those on the margins of society, and a pervading arrogance and selfishness that masquerades as patriotism and religious faith, we hear a familiar prophecy from the prophet Micah. “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.”

The kings and prophets of old in Israel often emerged from prominent families and privileged communities. Compared to Jerusalem the exalted center of worship and seat of temporal power, Bethlehem was an obscure and unremarkable little village. Yet the prophet raises sleepy little Bethlehem’s profile by proclaiming she had something significant to contribute to the glory of Israel. From her would come a son who would usher a golden age of peace and prosperity in Israel. The prophecy foretold the dramatic rise of the young shepherd boy David, the least of his large family, who would be anointed by the prophet Samuel and be regarded to this day the greatest of Israel’s heroes. Because Joseph the husband of Mary was a descendant of King David, they would travel to Bethlehem at the time of the census of Caesar Augustus, and their child born in a manger would also fulfill the prophecy of Micah. Little Bethlehem would be obscure and unremarkable no more. “His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.”

Mary of Nazareth was likely just 14 years old when the angel Gabriel came to her to announce that she would conceive and give birth to a son, who would be known as “the Son of the Most High. He will sit on the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary was entrusted an awesome secret she could not share. So she rushed to her cousin Elizabeth.

Now Elizabeth had long come to terms with her childlessness. Among her family and friends the connotations were many and mostly insensitive and unkind. But she held her head high. She embraced her commitment to cherish her husband and manage her household. Soon she settled into a predictable routine and the humdrum of life became a welcome friend. So when old Zach came home from his temple service unable to speak but otherwise his usual self, she just brushed it aside as unusual but of little consequence. And when signs of a pregnancy became more and more apparent, it was for her an awesome secret with implications too scary and ridiculous and outrageous to imagine. But when her young cousin’s greeting resounded through the house and the baby stirred within her, she was convinced that God was at work in mystery. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Amid the usual commercial frenzy that surrounds us today while we attempt to navigate the challenges and perils of a global pandemic, inflation and shortages, devastating natural disasters, the never-ending culture wars, rude and unapologetic divisiveness and incivility, a grave lack of compassion for those on the margins of society, and a pervading arrogance and selfishness that masquerades as patriotism and religious faith, we are reminded that God is at work in mystery. If subtle and suspicious signs about us catch our notice, perhaps God is telling us something awesome.

These next few weeks amid the seasonal frenzy we can’t very well escape, I bid you to heed the Holy Spirit’s invitation to listen as he speaks in the voices of our sisters and brothers who live on the margins of church and the practice of the faith. Since Pope Francis invited us to join the process ahead of the Synod of Bishops in 2023, we have prayed the synod prayer asking the Holy Spirit to “teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it, to find unity in him as we journey together to eternal life.” The work will be challenging, tedious, and unglamorous, requiring much patience and great compassion. Every bishop, pastor, and parish will embrace their role depending on what they believe God is trying to accomplish. I believe we at St. John can provide such a welcome, a listening ear, support for the faltering, and companionship for the journey. But we need a veritable army of willing volunteers to lend a hand. I ask you to check out the parish website. Under the Synod logo, click on the link “Waynesboro.” I am convinced God is at work in mystery in the church and among us. I have seen signs that give me hope. And the gospel needs to be proclaimed anew again and yet again.

Rolo B Castillo © 2021

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