Sunday Reflection for December 18.
Most of us can recall a time when a simple word or choice from us would have changed the course of our life. To have said yes or no to a marriage proposal. To have accepted a job overseas. To have invested in a start-up company. To have challenged an injustice – or to have remained silent. There are many mundane, less dramatic choices also, which create our future.
As we get older and look back we sometimes muse at how different our life could have been, and wonder, sometimes, at the twists in the path that have brought us where we are.
To Mary, however, the biggest choice of all has to be made. She hears that she will bring the Messiah into the world. Her reply will be the turning-point for humanity. Moreover it will bring turmoil and upheaval into her own life. No wonder she is ‘deeply disturbed’ (v 29). Her own life story and human history will turn at this point.
Mary is given a glimpse of the bigger picture. We hear it ourselves in the first reading from 2 Samuel 7, with its promise of an everlasting kingship. The child that she is to bear will fulfil those promises. The angelic message alludes to the promises directly, expecting that Mary will know the Hebrew scriptures and the traditions of her people. To understand the bigger picture and the part she will play in it she must be well formed in her Jewish faith.
An odd fact of our world today is how much hostility there is to teaching children their faith. Yet I wonder whether we can ever truly feel part of something bigger than ourselves unless we have faith in God. To be Christian today means that we believe that God overcame the gap between himself and humankind by coming among us as Christ. He did this out of love. The kingdom Christ established was not like that of David, but a kingdom of love and peace, a kingdom of charity and justice, in which each of us is called to play a part. This gives us the bigger picture. It tells us that we belong. It tells us, astonishing as it may sound, that God believes that we can make a difference in the world as we seek to follow our Saviour.
At funerals today many families choose Frank Sinatra singing ‘I did it my way’ for their departed loved one. No doubt the deceased was probably a character. Yet I find myself wondering: would we really be happy if we did everything our own way? So much of life, of growth, depends on our ability to work with others. More than that, it depends on seeing that we are part of a bigger picture. Parents routinely put their own wishes aside to think and plan for their children. Workers are encouraged to see their job as meeting the standards of the company. In many sports the players have to discipline themselves so that they can be team players. In orchestras or bands musicians learn to listen not only to their own music but to the music of others. In ways big and small we grow by belonging to something greater than ourselves.
Goodness, love and generosity are not restricted to religious people. They are found in people of all faiths and none. And yet, time and again, in the community it seems to be people of faith who join hands to bring practical help, care and concern. They know, like Mary, that there is a bigger picture, in which God reaches into our world and draws us into his loving purposes. As we hear in today’s second reading: ‘This is only what scripture has predicted, and it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be’ (Rom. 16.26).
Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest at St Mary's in Finchley East, north London. His latest book is Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing and is available at Amazon.com