December 24, 2017 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
The following is the homily I will be delivering at St. Pius X in Indianapolis for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:
If you’ve been paying attention to the gospel readings for the past 2-1/2 weeks – and I’m sure you have – you may have noticed something.
The gospel reading on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 was Luke 1:26-38, which ends with these words from Mary: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
The gospel on December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was the same – Luke 1:26-38.
On Wednesday of the third week of Advent, this past Wednesday, we read the very same gospel – Luke 1:26-38.
And now today, celebrating the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we read – you guessed it – Luke 1:26-38 – and hear Mary say once again, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
The Church took a page from the advertising world: The more you repeat the message, the better the result. Repetition leads to recognition, which leads to comfort and familiarity, which leads to buy-in.
The first couple of times, we can understand why this gospel was used. After all, the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe are Marian feasts – the intent is to celebrate Mary. We celebrate her by highlighting the remarkable selflessness of the words she spoke.
However, the Church offers us this gospel FOUR times in a 16-day period. The Church is trying to sell us on something. Two times? Maybe it’s about Mary. FOUR times? It’s about us.
We are offered this gospel four times not only to hear Mary’s words, but also to take them into our hearts. We reflect on the meaning of Mary’s words. She said her sole purpose for living was to carry out the will of God – His will be done, not hers.
Hopefully, after hearing Mary’s words four times and reflecting on her beautiful intent, we will choose to imitate her willingness to be a handmaid to God. If not imitate, perhaps we can at least approximate that willingness.
God wants us to be His handmaids. He needs us to be His handmaids.
You don’t hear the word handmaids used much in modern times. Historically and biblically, handmaids generally worked for the wealthy, particularly royalty. By definition, handmaids were those whose sole function was to serve or assist their master. They worked in the trenches, doing the dirty work no one else wanted to do. The will of their master be done, not theirs.
While we may pay laborers to do work we are unable or unwilling to do, we don’t have someone at our beck and call, responding to our every need – with the exception of a few lucky pastors who have a deacon assigned to their parish.
Many of us, including myself, take pride in the fact that we are willing to do the dirty work. I watch the show Dirty Jobs on TV and often say, “I’d be willing to do that!” I would be willing to clean out the inside of a garbage truck or shovel out the stalls at a dairy farm. I am also the guy who is OK with putting away the chairs after an event or pushing a broom when needed.
Maybe this describes you as well. You take pride knowing that no job is beneath you.
You may be thinking, “I would make a great handmaid!” You feel like you can confidently proclaim the same words Mary spoke to the angel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” His will be done, not mine.
I apologize for bursting your bubble, but there is something you should know. While you are to be commended for your willingness to be a handmaid, God does not likely need you to clean out garbage trucks or shovel out the stalls of dairy farms.
God’s dirty work may not actually get you dirty at all. It is dirty work because it is the difficult work, the work no one likes to do, the work that makes us uncomfortable.
Doing God’s dirty work means boldly stepping into situations where you see an injustice taking place. It means speaking out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves – the unborn, the afflicted, and the disenfranchised.
Doing God’s dirty work means rolling up your sleeves to care for the poor and the homeless – praying for them, sharing what you have, dignifying them by looking them in the eye and speaking with them – human being to human being.
Doing God’s dirty work means promoting and defending the Church, wearing your faith on your sleeve, and sharing the Good News.
Doing God’s dirty work means loving and serving others – serving others before serving ourselves. His will be done, not your own.
Being a handmaid for the Lord is not an easy task. Rather than become discouraged by our inability to fully imitate Mary, we can begin by taking small steps toward it.
When I was young, our family would occasionally stay at a hotel as we were traveling on vacation. Before we checked out, my Mom always made us clean up the rooms. We made the beds, wiped down the shower and sink, dusted everything off, etc. We – the kids – all moaned and groaned, “Why are we doing this? That is what the maids are for!”
My mom gave the same answer each time, “We should always leave things a little better than we found them.”
Perhaps that’s where we start, by doing our best to leave the world better than we found it.
Next week you’ll be making a New Year’s resolution.
Why not resolve to start each day by saying, “Your will be done, Lord. Today I will try to leave things a little better than I find them.”
Can you imagine a world in which everyone started his or her day with that frame of mind, and then actually lived it out?