Commentary on the Gospel of
Today presents us with two challenging readings. As is customary this time of year, the first reading carries the Advent message.
If you are anything like me, it’s easy to tune out the Old Testament readings about cities being destroyed, evil people being struck down, and so on.
Moreover, the reading today comes from the book of Zephaniah, whom we don’t encounter often. A bit of Internet research informs me that he is the ninth of 12 minor prophets whose books appear in the Old Testament. All we know of him is what is found in his book.
So if you don’t read or listen carefully you might miss what I think is the key passage: "But I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly.” Humility is underrated. In a world that often seems to reward the brash and unapologetic, humility is seen as being a form of weakness. “C’mon! Get abs of steel and people will worship at your feet!” “Use us as your financial advisor and you won’t want for a thing! And then you can sneer at everyone who isn’t as smart as you are!” And so blare on the infomercials.
Funny how we never see infomercials about how to really listen to other people and admit that their needs are greater than ours. Even commercials for well-intentioned charities more often play to our guilt than to tout the good that is done.
Jesus came to us in the most humble of ways, in a manger. The romanticized manger displays surely don’t do the real setting justice. Mary, I’m sure, wasn’t dressed nicely in the costume of her day with a glowing face. She had just been through labor. Joseph — like most men, including me — was probably clueless as to what to do with an 8 pound bundle of flesh trying out his lungs and piercing your eardrums at the same time. And remember, this is where animals lived, so it probably didn’t smell that great. While the manger displays always have a benevolent donkey looking on, I’d encourage you to meet an actual donkey. (Keep your distance.)
None of this is meant to be irreverent or to say that there’s something wrong with manger displays. They’re a good thing and help remind us what the season is about. But by human standards our salvation began in the most humble of ways possible and was consummated — again by human standards — in the most degrading and painful way possible, before the miracle of the Resurrection.
So humility doesn’t need an infomercial. It has the greatest one ever: Advent. Don’t change the channel or hit the mute button.