“Tony the Tiger” says “Frosted Flakes” are “grrreeat!” Being Italian I think lasagna and raviolis are just “grrreeat.” My waistline even proves that point. However, what the world defines as “great” is not the same as how God defines being truly great. Greatness in the eyes of the world is “bigness,” sometimes it involves anger, violence, destruction, power and especially being “famous” and “important.” For many of today’s “western” men it seems to always be linked to physical prowess, good looks, athletic ability, fortune, economic success or being well, just famous! It is reflected in Western man’s greed and desire for everything to be bigger, faster and louder. For some of today’s women there seems to be a growing trend to prove you can do anything or go anywhere a male can go or do. That is the price of radical militant feminism of the 60’s and 70’s, which desired “bigness.” For many people, to be “great” means how high in the corporate ladder you go or in the political or even athletic arena. Motherhood and fatherhood doesn’t seem to be good enough anymore for some, but I’m glad my mom showed her greatness by the humility of rearing her children everyday, day in and day out. So many people sadly view pregnancy and children as a burden to be avoided. To achieve “greatness” in the eyes of the world often comes at a very high price, peace and joy in God. How does God view real greatness? Let’s look at today’s readings of the Fourth Sunday of Advent for the answer.
We have entered the “home stretch” of the Advent season on December 17 when the daily readings shifted their focus of preparation from Christ’s Second Coming (in majesty) to Christ’s First Coming in Christmas (in history). Let’s look at some of Christ’s attributes: the man of true greatness, which we can make our own, which our first parents: Adam and Eve failed to recognize. “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from old, from ancient times.” WOW! Even though Jesus’s origin is eternal, from “ancient times,” He still chooses to be born in a tiny, nothing of a town, in obscurity with no fanfare. Why is this little town good enough for the Almighty One? Bethlehem, which means “house of bread” is truly great in God’s pure eyes and humble heart, only the worldly, arrogant and prideful of heart cannot see it. “He will stand firm and shepherd his flock.” In Jesus’s time, becoming a shepherd was something to avoid, not espouse yourself to. Jesus was going to become our Bridegroom and He wanted to marry us and espouse Himself to us, but He needed to shepherd His wayward flock with real strength and Divine Majesty. The prophet Malachi goes on to write that His greatness will reach the ends of the earth and He “shall be peace.” Do you notice it does not say, “He will bring peace?” Jesus Christ IS peace, because He knows true greatness is through humbling Himself, taking on human flesh, and becoming so little as to be conceived in the womb of a woman. Jesus’s greatness is shown through His littleness, hiddenness, humility and vulnerability. Jesus is great in showing mercy and forgiveness, not showing off power, hate, wrath and anger. All of Jesus’s life, on earth, reflects these attributes, but especially the Incarnation, the Nativity, His hidden life in Nazareth, in Egypt, on the Cross and in His Real, but hidden, Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Jesus does not withdraw from us (Responsorial Psalm 80), because of our sins and shame; we withdraw from Him, just as Adam and Eve did after their Fall in the Garden of Eden. Even though Adam and Eve had true greatness in original solitude and unity, as St. John Paul II brilliantly showed in his work The Theology of the Body, Satan deceived them that doing their own will is real “freedom and greatness.” They didn’t realize what true greatness really is – doing the will of God. This is accented in today’s Second Reading in the Letter to the Hebrews and the Alleluia Verse, which is taken from Mary’s Magnificat. Mary freely and actively embraced God’s invitation to bear the Messiah. In our self-centered, self-absorbed Western culture, of which we are apart, it’s all about the idol of personal “freedom” and the exaltation of the self. It doesn’t include for many doing God’s will or “let it be done to me according to your word.” Satan is still deceiving many as to what “greatness” and true “freedom” really mean. Jesus freely chose to empty Himself and follow the Father to the Nativity, Nazareth, Egypt and the Cross.
It is only natural for baby (in eutero) John the Baptist to leap in the Presence of such true greatness laying in Mary’s womb, as David did before the Presence of God’s hidden greatness in the tablets of the Ten Commandments laying within the Ark. Mary’s womb is the new Ark of the New Covenant – Jesus Christ, of which we are apart of His blessed family. Yes, indeed how blessed is Mary because of her humility, not in doing her will, but having the freedom to surrender it to follow the great will of God for her. We can never be truly great unless we can be truly free to choose the good. We can never be truly great if we are choosing evil. These are inseparably linked. We will never become peace, which is Jesus, unless we have peace, and peace can never be attained by self-fulfillment and living a self-absorbed sinful life. How truly blessed we will be, if we believe what is spoken to us in the Sacred Scriptures will be fulfilled in us, if we can follow the example and life Christ has given us – the true Prince of Peace. Have a truly blessed and peaceful Advent. Amen.
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.