There is electricity in a crowd waiting in line, or in a huddle, anxious for doors to be opened. This is true at a movie or sports event or on the first day of a sale. They can hardly wait; they feel that they are on the threshold of something marvelous. That’s where we are today. The readings prepare us for the upcoming feast, giving us glimpses into the mysteries we will be celebrating. They bring together the major themes of the first three Sundays of Advent: promise, repentance, transformation and joy. We now stand on the threshold, eager for the doors to be opened so that we can step inside and enjoy the marvels prepared for us there.
Today’s readings open the door a crack, and we are amazed at how ordinary everything is inside. We see Bethlehem, an unsophisticated little village that is but a stone’s throw from the thriving capital, Jerusalem. Though remembered as the birthplace of the great king David, it really never made a name for itself in any other way. To the side we see a young pregnant woman hastening to help an older relative who is also with child. There is nothing extraordinary about this. What is God up to?
From this rugged backwater village will come a ruler even greater than David. A shepherd will be born there unlike any shepherd who tends flocks in the hills surrounding the simple dwellings. And something extraordinary occurs between the two women. The lives within the sanctuaries of their wombs recognize each other. The encounter is out in the open, yet seen by no one.
Why does God choose what is ordinary to carry the radiance of the divine? Might it be so that the glory is not given to the common vessel that holds it, but redounds to God where it belongs? Or might it be that we mistake what is loud and flashy for what is truly marvelous? Whatever the case, God’s choices recounted in today’s readings should encourage all of us. The mystery of the Incarnation comes to ordinary people living ordinary lives. All that is required is openness to do God’s will, willingness to respond to God’s call. According to the author of Hebrews, such obedience was the motivating force in Jesus’ life: “I come to do your will.”
As we stand on the threshold of the feast, we begin to realize that the radiance of God can shine forth through faithfulness in the ordinary events of life.