Our first reading and Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent present us with the theme of insignificance. The prophet Micah writes, “Thus says the Lord: 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.”
Bethlehem might be a small city, but from this city of David’s royal lineage something great will happen — the ruler of Israel will come forth and next Saturday we celebrate that ruler’s birth — Jesus. He was born to a couple from another insignificant town called Nazareth and when one future apostle heard where Jesus hailed from, he asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth” (Jn 1:45-46)?
In the weekend’s Gospel, another person, who might seem insignificant, prompts a major declaration which is repeated to this very day. The baby John the Baptist, leaping in the womb of Elizabeth upon Mary’s arrival, leads her to proclaim, “Blessed are you among women” and ask the question, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
In the eyes of the world, a baby in the womb might seem insignificant, but, with the presence of the Holy Spirit and a mother’s connection with her child, that particular baby made a major contribution to Catholic devotional life with the Hail Mary prayer. And that baby played a major role in the life of Jesus’ public ministry as he prepares the way for the Lord, points people to Jesus and baptizes the Lord himself when he requests it at the Jordan River.
The Christmas story we will hear in forthcoming days from the Gospels will recount for us how the message of Christ’s birth was heralded to shepherds in a field. Again, insignificant people in the eyes of the world, who became bearers of the message to those they met.
God makes us all significant because he came for you and me. He was born in an insignificant city and born in an insignificant stable, so that, by his death and resurrection, we would become heirs of God’s kingdom. You and I are significant because Jesus shed his blood for us, redeemed us, forgave us. Now, he calls us, the sinners that we are, to become disciples and make disciples of all nations.
God has used insignificant people all throughout the history of our church. People who were dismissed by their family or peers became some of the greatest saints of our tradition.
If you think you are insignificant, you are not, because you are a child of God, and significant in his eyes and for his mission.
Fr. Looney pastors the Catholic parishes in Brussels and Lincoln/Rosiere. He is the author of “Meditations After Holy Communion.”