A five-year-old boy was dying in Calcutta. The medicine that could save him was available only in Europe, so the frail, old father of the boy approached Mother Teresa and desperately begged for help. The saintly founder of the Missionary of Charity painfully confronted the teary-eyed man: “I’m sorry…I have no stock of such medicine. I had requested our donors in Europe to send me this medicine, but I have not received any reply. But trust God. The Good Lord will provide.”
Feeling hopeless, the man was about to leave the center when a mail package from abroad was delivered. The sisters then excitedly opened the box and found it full of medicine—from Europe! The very medicine the man needed for his dying son was right on top of the package. Mother Teresa saw the medicine and called the man who was already at the doorstep. She said: “God is truly good. He must have touched the hearts of our donors to send these medicines before you needed them. They arrived in time while you were still here. God always prepares the way for our needs.”
During Advent we are reminded that God prepared the way for our needs and for our salvation. He sent His angel to joyfully announce to Zechariah that his wife, old and barren, would bear a son.
One of God’s characteristics, which today’s reading so wonderfully reminds us—He is unpredictable. God likes to surprise us, and that He likes to use unconventional means to achieve His purpose. For example, throughout the Bible, He chooses a younger brother over his older brother whenever He launches a new phase in the history of salvation. Thus, He favors
- Abel over Cain (Genesis 4:1-5)
- Isaac over Ishmael (Genesis 16; 21)
- Jacob over Esau (Genesis 25:27)
- Joseph over his eleven brothers (Genesis 37)
In like manner, God chooses someone belonging to an unimportant group or clan: Gideon (Judges 6:15), Saul (1 Samuel 9:21), and even the people of Israel itself, called “the smallest of all peoples” in Deuteronomy 7:7.
God is unpredictable in another way, too. Several times in the history of salvation, He chooses sterile women or older women to bear a son who will initiate the next phase of that history: Sarah, Isaac’s mother; Hannah, the prophet Samuel’s mother. And in the two readings of today’s Liturgy, we hear of two more such unlikely mothers—the unnamed mother of Samson and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.
The aging Zechariah and his barren wife, Elizabeth, remind us of waiting in hope. They believed and held onto hope. Their prayers were heard, and a son was given to them. They believed and trusted.
Out of ‘barrenness’ often comes the greatest creativity. We now know this is the very nature of God’s whole creation, like the very origin of the universe; out of nothing, He created the Universe.
Am I like Zechariah and Elizabeth, who can tolerate ambiguity and trust through darkness and experience the mysterious hands of God surprising us in adverse circumstances?
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