God's Odd Ways of Choosing People

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8 December 2005. Luke 1, 26-38

Let me begin with behind the scenes stories of Christmas: While Joseph and Mary were on their way to Bethlehem, an angel had a secret meeting with the animals to choose which of them was to help the holy family in the stable. Naturally, the lion volunteered first.

"Only a king," said he, "is worthy to serve the ruler of the world. I'll tear to pieces anyone who gets anywhere near the child."

"Oh no, you're too overpowering," said the angel.

Next the sly fox sidled up and with an innocent face remarked, "I'll see to it that the Baby Jesus gets the sweetest honey, and I'll steal a chicken each morning for His mother."

"Oh no, you're too devious and scheming," the angel told him.

Next the peacock came up and unfolded her marvelously-colored tail feathers. Said she, "I'll decorate that little barn better than Solomon did his temple."

"I'm sorry," said the angel, "You're too vain."

Many others came up and offered their services. Not one was chosen. The angel took a final look around and then saw a donkey and an ox out in the field working with a farmer. The angel called them over. "What have you got to offer?" he asked the pair.

"Nothing," said the donkey as he dropped down his long ears. "We haven't learned anything but humility and patience. Whatever else we tried to learn only got us more whippings."

Then the ox added bashfully, "Well, maybe there is some little thing we could do, like keep the flies away by swinging our tails."

"Right on!" said the angel. "You are the two we want."

Stories like this reflect God's odd ways of choosing people. The Gospel of Matthew for example shows that even before Jesus' birth, the Lord has chosen people who are considered sinners. Jacob was a liar: he cheated Esau by putting on a coat of animal hair. Matthew also included women of questionable repute or in difficult marital circumstances or seen as publicly scandalous like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, Uriah's wife and the mother of King Solomon. These are Jesus' ancestors, listed in Jesus' genealogy or family tree. We can say that God has indeed used these people as true instruments of God's spirit and grace. They prepare for Mary who is "found with child" before living with her husband and yet is the vessel of the Holy Spirit in conceiving Jesus. Like the donkey and the ox who were chosen among the animals.

The Immaculate Conception, whose feast we celebrate today, illustrates God's strange way of choosing people to become the instruments of his plans. Like the donkey and the ox, Mary was a simple woman. Not a celebrity. Not a queen. Not a rich girl. And yet the angel Gabriel at the moment of the Annunciation salutes her as "full of grace." To become the mother of the Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role." At the Announcement that she would give birth to "the Son of the Most High" without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that "with God nothing will be impossible": "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done according to Your word." Thus, giving her consent to God's word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus.

But let me clarify a point: the Immaculate Conception refers to the Birth of Mary, not the birth of Jesus. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary's birth, by the grace of God, is free her whole life long of every personal sin because she will be the Mother of Jesus, God Himself. Here we see that God indeed has chosen a simple and pure woman, over the countless celebrities, queens and rich girls of her age. Over the countless lionesses, foxes and peacocks.

The second thing which we learn about the Immaculate Conception in relation to Christmas, is that "with God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1, 37). In fact, the story of Christmas is strange and wonderful as Fr. Horacio de la Costa SJ would say, “It is a story of darkness and light. It is a story of the impossible becoming possible. Of God becoming like one of us. A mother who is a virgin. A child who is God.” It is a story of God's work coming to reality despite the odds that may have prevented it to happen. The innkeepers who would not admit Mary and Joseph to their homes. The wicked King Herod who threatened to kill Jesus by first asking the Magi to point to them the exact location of his birth, and then, after the unsuccessful plot, kills all the male children at Bethlehem. But in this life threatening situation, God had other plans. Mary and Joseph found a stable for Jesus. And when the wicked Herod threatened to kill Jesus, had Jesus escape ultimately to return from Egypt and save his people. Like Moses and the story of Israel. In darkness, a light has shone.

It is similar too here in the University of the Philippines. Our moments of light come in situations of darkness. Despite people threatening to destroy faith-based activities by actively campaigning against it or pledges their non-support or threatens the very existence of this parish, that very activity to their shame becomes the school's glory and honor. We still feel the importance of spiritual activities despite all the skepticism and questions about faith, or despite all the scandals that rocked the Philippine Church. Despite complaints and fears expressed by people who have long been in this parish, we have seen that students indeed enliven the university with their varied and energetic activities --- whether at mass singing, serving and reading and teaching catechism and tutorials. And is it not sweeter that their successes shine like a torch of light in the darkness because they become manifestations that, as Mary believed, "with God nothing is impossible." If God wants it, not even a gossip, non-participation, or a complaint, will prevent Him from carrying out his plans. God believes in the power of the young. Mary was young when she became the mother of Jesus.

Furthermore, the Immaculate Conception reminds us that with our participation with His grace, God prepares us for the work He calls us. Mary was freed from personal sin in order to be the mother of God. However, God still asked her consent to His plan of salvation. God respects our freedom and our person, and thus invites us to cooperate with him. And when we make ourselves available like Mary, we may see how God can make great things from us.


rosanne said...

Thank you for a good homily during today's 6pm mass. Pre-dinner/post-class masses are really something to look forward to :)

Oh and thanks for helping my cousin (JP Valencia) with his short-film. He told me your group sang for the film (for free).

God bless you lots.

Jessel Gerard said...

Thank you very much rosanne! It is because of people like you and those who thirst for God's work that I prepare my homilies. It gives meaning to my work too. Again let's keep each and everyone in UP in our prayers.

Anonymous said...

Father Jboy, what a nice homily! A parable that indeed reflects God's Odd Ways of Choosing People! I'll copy it and forward it to my friends. More power! -ruby-