December 19, 2019 – Thursday of the 3rd Week of Advent
Click here for the readings http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121919.cfm
Do you like surprises? Or do you like to be surprised?
When I was very young I really liked to be surprised because as a child, a surprise is a stimulus that creates excitement and happiness. Yet, as I was growing up I also gradually realized that I did not want any surprise anymore. I began to become calculating in what I say and in what I do. This has become the way I was brought up at home and at school. But more than this, I also grew up in an environment where a particular mistake or failure has a particular punishment.
As a child, a punishment whether verbal or physical can be painful and shameful. Because of such experiences, I learned many lessons not to commit the same mistakes over and over again. As a result, I became very careful in what I say and with the things that I do. In fact, this helped me to become an organized person. Because of this too, I have become an obedient boy. I carefully followed orders as well as rules and regulations at school. Nevertheless, I became indignant to something that may come as a surprise or spontaneous. Thus, I refused to be surprised because I feel insecure and not prepared. I settled to what was only familiar to me, to what was routine and mechanical . Yet, I also tend to be complacent and rejecting to what was spontaneous and surprising.
However, the readings that we have today shed light to my own experience and rather called me to what God desires for me and for all of us. So, let us go through once again the scriptures and discover how God is surprising us today.
The Book of Judges tells us the story of the birth of Samson. Manoah and his wife, who was not named, were surprised by God. His wife was barren, therefore, she cannot conceived a child. However, in a surprising way, God blessed her with the visit of an angel. That angel announced to her the good news from the Lord. Being intuitive and receptive to God’s presence, she welcomed this surprise despite the physical limitations she had of being barren.
This tells us that there is something really good with the mother of Samson. Despite the pain of being shamed by people around her, just being barren, she never lost the attitude of being receptive and welcoming to God’s presence. She might have prayed a lot before this but for many years, her prayers remained unanswered. Heavens seemed to be too far from her and God’s ears seemed to be unavailable. Yet, she has never lost hope and thus, never lost her heart that longed for God’s surprise.
However, in the announcement of the Birth of John to Zechariah, we have heard a different attitude from him. With the news proclaimed by Angel Gabriel, God’s surprise was just so damn good… that Zechariah couldn’t believe that in his old age with his old wife Elizabeth, they would be having a son. It was just so damn good that he refused to believe the great news from God.
But we may wonder, how could Zechariah a priest of God become so numb and disbelieving of God’s surprise for him?
In the Biblical tradition, the revelation of God to Zechariah was the first since the last revelation in the Old Testament that ended in the Book of Malachi. There was about 400 years of silence from heaven. There were no prophets and no revelations from Yahweh.
From this, we could just presume that Zechariah had also become too apathetic to anything new and any surprise from God. He was just so used to his routine and to the many days that had become too ordinary for him. Yet, he had become indifferent to God’s surprise because his prayers to have a child seemed not been heard.
We too are not far from Zechariah. We might be tempted also to settle for what is routine, mechanical and ordinary because our prayers remained unanswered and our dreams remained unfulfilled. We might become lifeless in our prayers and relationship with one another because everything seemed to be just so ordinary. This may lead us to relate with God and with others in a lazy, complacent, automatic and uninterested way.
These attitudes, therefore, will prevent us from being more sensitive to God’s way of surprising us. Thus, in today’s Gospel, we are invited to encounter the Lord with an attitude of sensitivity and receptivity.
God calls us to be sensitive to his surprises, which also means to be more aware of His presence in our life and in the life of others even in the midst of the ordinary, of the routine and of the usual. God comes to surprise us out of the blue because he loves to surprise us.
God calls us also to be open and welcoming of His presence and of his surprise. God’s surprise will be worthless if we are not open to Him and refuse to be surprised by Him. An attitude that is receptive of God, makes us become childlike where in, we free ourselves from fear and anxieties, including judgments and biases. Thus, allow God to surprise us because, certainly, he has a surprise for each of us.
Indeed, may God surprise us all the more in this joyful season that like that woman, the mother of Samson and Zechariah too, we shall praise the Lord with our lips and hearts because God is good and faithful to us. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR