Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C.
One of the things you’re often asked to do in seminary, is to tell your vocation story—your story of how God called you to be a priest. And because you’re asked to do this so often and in so many different contexts, you have different versions of this story floating around in your head. You have a 1 minute version and a 10 minute version; a version for young kids, and a version for adults; a version that you tell other priests, and a version that you share when your audience is mostly laity. The problem with this, is that because you have so many different versions of your story floating around in your head, you sometimes forget which version is the “real” one, or at least the one that closest to reality. Anyone who’s had to tell a story over and over again, has probably had a similar experience.
As I was reflecting on our readings for this weekend, I realized that there was a detail about my vocation story which I had forgotten. I had told my story so often without this detail included that I no longer remembered just how important it actually was.
When it comes to my vocation story, a common question people have is, why didn’t you finish your engineering degree at UW-Madison? After all, you were three years into your degree, so why didn’t you just take one more year and finish it up? In anticipation of this question, when I told my vocation story, I often said that I didn’t finish my degree because it actually would have taken me more than one year to do so. I was on a 5-year, not a 4-year, plan. But while I certainly took that practical consideration into account when I made my decision to leave UW-Madison and enter the seminary, the real reason I left was far more spiritual than practical. The real reason had to do with our gospel today.
Our gospel today takes place immediately after the events of the Annunciation. Mary has just been visited by the angel Gabriel, and she is now with child. She has also just heard the news that her cousin Elizabeth is with child, although she is beyond the normal child-bearing age. In response to all this, our gospel today says that Mary “traveled to the hill country in haste” to visit Elizabeth.
The real reason why I left UW-Madison when I did, is because when you hear God’s call, you go in haste. There is a sense of urgency when it comes to bringing Jesus to other people, and we see that in our gospel today. From the very moment of His conception, Jesus wanted to be brought to others; in this case, He wanted to be brought to Elizabeth and to the child she was carrying in her womb, John the Baptist. Jesus, we might say, went to work straight away when He was only a single cell in His mother’s womb. Once He had a human soul and the beginnings of a human body, He began His work of salvation. As we heard in our second reading: “When Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;…behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”
Like Mary, all of us are called to answer God’s call with a sense of urgency. And this is true not just of those calls that can completely change our lives. God doesn’t just call us when He wants us to make a major course correction. He wants to be involved in even the smallest details of our lives. And so we should respond with a sense of urgency to the ordinary, everyday calls from God: to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit to do this, or don’t do this; to say that, or don’t say that. But do we do this? Do we respond to God’s call in haste, or do we hold back in hesitancy? And if so, why are we hesitant?
Perhaps we’re hesitant because we’re simply trapped in our own world, preoccupied by our own concerns. Mary went in haste not only because she was obedient to God, but because she was so profoundly other-focused. She heard that Elizabeth was six-months pregnant, she knew that she was in need, and so she responded with a sense of urgency. There are probably people around us who are in need of our love and care—probably more people than we realize—but we may be so caught up in our own concerns that we are unable or unwilling to hear God’s call to put their needs before our own.
Another reason why we might be hesitant is because we are afraid of what God might be calling us to do: either because it means letting go of what we want to do, or because we don’t think we’re equipped to do what He’s calling us to do. In my own case, I was afraid of not being prepared for the task at hand. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a priest. And I didn’t; but God provided for what was lacking. And that’s what He does for all of us. By herself, Mary didn’t have what it took to be the Mother of God. But God provided for that. Mary was conceived without sin by God’s grace; she remained sinless throughout her life by God’s grace; and she conceived Jesus also by God’s grace. Those whom God calls, God also equips to fulfill His call. Our job, like Mary’s, is just to say yes—and to do so right away, in haste.
My challenge for all of us this last week of Advent is this: Identify one thing in your life that God has been calling you to do. Perhaps it’s big, perhaps it’s small. And try to respond to this call, this week, in haste. Do it right away. Don’t keep putting it off. Many of us may be in a rush to get things done these last days before Christmas. Amidst the hustle and bustle of these days, let’s try to listen to the voice of God. And let’s go in haste, as Mary did, when He calls. Amen.