God "needs" us to keep His promises

Al Cariño
4th Sunday in Advent
Reproduced with Permission

"Promises and more promises! Those are all I get from you!" How many times have we said these words in utter frustration because promises made to us are honored more in the breach! And how easily we forget that to make a promise is to put ourselves in another's debt, to invite him to put his trust in us until we deliver on our word! For to the degree that we fail to keep our promises, to that degree, too, is trust in us lost. On the other hand, to the degree that we keep them, to that degree too is the original trust in us deepened.

In the first reading (Mic. 5:1-4) the prophet Micah announces the great promise of God: "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, from ancient times." Between this promise and its fulfillment there was a long period of destruction, suffering and exile. These notwithstanding, a "remnant" of the Chosen People held on to this promise because of their unshakable belief that God would always keep a promise once made. This in turn gave substance to their hope and direction in life.

At the beginning of Luke's gospel, we see two of these "remnants" in the persons of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They lived in the hope of God's promise which was fulfilled in their son John whose mission was to "prepare the way of the Lord." It was this fulfilled hope that the angel Gabriel gave as a sign to Mary that her acceptance to be the mother of His Son would also be fulfilled: "Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age,... for nothing will be impossible for God."

On hearing this, Mary traveled "in haste" to visit Elizabeth (Lk. 1: 39-45) in whom one of the signs of the hope of Israel was already being realized - she was six months pregnant with John. At Mary's arrival, many surprising things began to happen. This made the Visitation-event a feast of recognition of blessings.

First, the Spirit made Elizabeth recognize that her son leaped for joy because of the presence of the mother of the Savior. Second, the Spirit led Elizabeth to call Mary "blessed" thrice. She did not only recognize Mary's faith and obedience which made the promised Incarnation possible: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." She also recognized that Mary was actually bearing the Christ child: "Blessed is the fruit of your womb." And because of the "fruit" of her womb, the Spirit made Elizabeth say of Mary, "Most blessed are you among women." Amidst all these blessings, Mary could only humbly glorify the Lord of the Promise and Fulfillment: "My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my Savior" (Lk. 1:46-47).

In the fulfillment of God's promise in Elizabeth and Mary, we can learn one very important lesson: Salvation does not come from human efforts and merits; it comes exclusively from God's grace. There was nothing in Elizabeth that made her deserve the gift of deliverance from her barrenness. Neither was there anything in Mary that made her deserve to be the Mother of God's Son. But God had "need" for them if He was to carry out His promise. So from among all women, He chose them for very important and specific roles: to cooperate with Him in their own unique ways in bringing about His promise of salvation to fallen humanity. And both unreservedly responded in faith and obedience to God's need.

If we look into ourselves, there is really nothing that we can call our own, except our sins. Everything that we are and have - our life, our talents, dispositions and abilities, status in life, our work - are all God's gifts to us. But God has a reason in giving us all these: He "needs" our entire person to help Him bring to reality in our time the salvation promised to all peoples throughout the world.

Needless to say, all of us are unique as persons. So are our talents, dispositions and abilities. God "needs" us to stamp His Kingdom with our own uniqueness through our faith and obedience just as Mary and Elizabeth did. In short, there are therefore as many ways to serve God in His Kingdom as there are persons with their respective uniqueness. Thus to the extent that we respond to God's "need" for us to carry out our specific role in His Kingdom, to that extent also is a specific "need" of God for His Reign in people realized. Conversely, if we fail to do so, then that specific "need" of God is left unrealized.

As we continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Savior this Advent, let it be our prayer that like Mary and Elizabeth, we will be able to place ourselves in our own unique ways in the service of God's "need" so He will be able to keep His promises to all of us and to the whole of fallen humanity.