A reflection on the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent — December 19, 2021 (Click here for audio)
The Beacons of Light initiative here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been a needed but complex and challenging process. Speaking personally, being right in the midst of this process as a parish priest, its impact on our future is frightening. Considering the humongous task ahead, honestly, I feel very, very small. I wonder if you have felt similarly – where an experience or a life situation makes you feel small.
Today’s first reading begins with the words, “You Bethlehem-Ephrathah too ‘small’ to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth one who is to be ruler in Israel….” Perhaps it is because I am crying out to God in my insufficiency, I became very aware of the God of small things. Our God is a God of small things.
The Incarnation shows us why small things matter. The Angel Gabriel came to a little home in the small town of Nazareth. In that small town, the angel came to a very young woman named Mary. In those days girls and women were accounted for very little. But God became small in a woman’s womb. Imagine this! The one for whom and through whom all created things came to be confined himself within a small womb among the smallest of society. As we heard in today’s Gospel reading, after the Annunciation, Mary made no fanfare of the news. Rather, she quietly went to visit her aged cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps Mary understood the God of small things. Mary would spend her entire life continuing to ponder and contemplate the God of small things. She never boasted about her son or paraded him around. She did not manipulate his status and dignity to her advantage, nor did she try to control him. She didn’t attempt to control the outcomes of the decisions he made. Even at the cross she merely stood weeping.
What is the practical implication of this? As we prepare for Christmas, let us be like Mary, who did not get carried away with the big, the spectacular, and the glamorous. May we not take our eyes off the smaller, humbler, poorer, and ordinary realities of life.
Jesus is the God of small things. Jesus was born as a little baby in a small town of Bethlehem. At a very early age, his family became refugees in Egypt. Refugees are small people. Later, his family returned to the small town of Nazareth from where they came. It was said of this town, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Jesus began his ministry by being baptized at the hands of the last of the Jewish prophets.
During his ministry, Jesus hung out with the smallest people in society: the sinners, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes. He noticed small people like Zacchaeus, the publican praying humbly before God, and the woman who put her last two small coins in the treasury. He stood by the small people in society: the woman caught in adultery, the ostracized lepers, the blind man whom everybody asked to be silent, the children who were shooed away from him, and the repentant thief who hung from the cross next to him. Most of all, he died as the smallest, lowliest, humblest, and most helpless of all people.
Here is another practical implication: blessed are you and I if we can understand the greatness of smallness.
What lessons have I learned from the God of small things? As I look at my life, I know the meaning of being small. I am the youngest child in my family. I was loved greatly, but I rarely mattered. In the seminary too, I was not among the ones who mattered most to the faculty and Church leaders. Even today, in light of everything that is happening around me, I feel small.
I am grateful for this feeling of smallness. It helps me identify with small people, the children, the underdogs, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, the sinners, the subtle, the unobvious. Feeling small allows me to ask for help, to look up to other people, to trust God more than my own abilities, and to work harder at things than I would otherwise do. Feeling small helps me to understand Christ, his message, and the way he went about in the world.
Here is one last practical implication: There are many times in life when we might feel small. Death makes us feel small and helpless; failure makes us feel small and incompetent; poverty makes us small feel insignificant; any kind of abuse makes us feel small and worthless; prejudice makes us feel small and unequal. Today, if anyone feels small, please know that God is a God of small things! Christmas teaches us that God is a God of small things.
The Eucharist tells us that our God is a God of small things. God comes to us in a small piece of bread and a little wine. The God who created the universe now dwells in a small human heart. Let us worship the God of small things.
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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.