Two great figures dominate the season of Advent: John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. John, about whom Jesus said that no man greater had ever been born of woman was sent from God to prepare the way of the Lord. Mary was chosen by God to give birth to and nurture the Savior of the world. John, we might say, was the way-maker, Mary the God-bearer; and, in fact, so she’s known among our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. Their favorite name for Mary is Theotokos, Greek for God-bearer.
Between them, John and Mary exemplify and model the essential qualities of a true follower of Christ. Each of us is called to prepare the way of the Lord in ourselves, so that, as John said, he Christ, might increase and we decrease, in other words, so that he may continue to grow in us. In the end we want to be able to say with St. Paul, “Not I, but Christ lives in me.”
Beyond this, we’re not only called to prepare the way of the Lord in ourselves but in others too. For our entering into the lives of others, in whatever way that may happen, intimately or casually, it should be easier for them to believe, to hope, and to love. At the very least, it shouldn’t be harder for them to believe, hope and love because of our influence in their lives. What John Paul II once wrote of priests is true of us all. We’re to build bridge not walls. We, like John the Baptist, are called to prepare the way of the Lord, to be way-makers.
We’re also called, like Mary, to be God-bearers, not as she was, obviously, but truly nonetheless. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. God almighty dwells in us. What an immense blessing! What high dignity! What awesome responsibility! Nine-tenths of what the world is selling us nowadays would have us believe we’re nothing more than slightly smarter than average animals, whose chief goals should be pleasure, comfort, and consumption. It’s a vision of life as a spa.
The Bible says NO. The Church says NO. We’re children of God. We’re God-bearers. We have an exalted calling and a sublime destiny. We’re made for greatness, not as the world defines it, as God defines it. We’re God-bearers, called to deport ourselves as such, to bring God to others, to share his riches, to live as best we can a Godly life now so that we’ll live with God forever. That’s what we’re made for.
He’s gone home to God now, but I had a friend, a Hungarian Benedictine priest, who was a world-class genius. Fr. Stanley Jaki had doctorates in theology and nuclear physics, spoke seven languages, and wrote about seventy books, many translated into other languages, including Chinese. He used to say that the West worshiped five false gods, each beginning with the letter “s”: sports, sex, smiles, stars (as in movie stars), and science. Attach any one of these to just about anything, he’d say, and you can sell it to almost anyone. Mind you, he was a scientist, but he knew science’s limits. He knew neither it nor any of the other false gods had anything at all to say about the meaning and purpose of life.
John the Baptist and Mary do: We are here to prepare the way of the Lord. We are here to be God-bearers. Let’s not sell ourselves short. We are called to great things. We are called to be way-makers. We are called to be God-bearers.