Each one of us has experienced God’s action in our lives in some special way, at least once. Maybe through a truly uncanny coincidence, or through an answered prayer, or through the providential intervention of a friend or loved one. I must admit that I too have experienced such God’s interventions. There were times when I was almost mad at God that he had ruined my plans I had for my own sake. When I was ready to proceed with my plan suddenly, something strange happened. A person or an event had changed my plans. Once I was in a hurry for a train to go to an important meeting. Then, suddenly, it happened that I had to take a stranger to a hospital. And of course, I was late for the train.
Another time I received an invitation to a good party. Unfortunately the party was cancelled at the last moment due to police action in the neighborhood.
I know for sure that there were God’s interventions that I should be late for the train or not attend the party. He wanted me to be a priest.
Also, I know for sure that on the two occasions, at least, God had protected me from getting into trouble after my irresponsible behavior. I could feel His presence in those events.
And the reasons for His interventions through people and circumstances? Maybe He wanted me to be who I am today.
I recently heard about one such encounter experienced by a Protestant pastor who ran a non-denominational church called “Almighty God Tabernacle.” He was working late one night at his office in the church and picked up the phone to tell his wife that he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner. He dialed the number, and the phone rang, and rang, and rang. It was strange, because he knew his wife was at home, and she always answered when he called. Finally he hung up and went back to work.
As he was leaving, he called again; this time his wife picked up the phone right away. She said that the phone hadn’t rung before.
The next day the pastor was back at his office and received a phone call from man he didn’t know. The unknown man started to explain that the night before, he was ready to commit suicide. Right before he took the pills, he prayed to God for a sign that he shouldn’t do it. Right then, the phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and it said, “Almighty God.”
Sure enough, it had all happened at exactly the same time that the pastor had tried to call home. So, the man explained, he didn’t commit suicide, and he had called the number back hoping to find Almighty God. The babe in Bethlehem really is Almighty God, who has not just called us on the phone, but has come to dwell among us.
Today the Church reminds us that Jesus truly is the Lord of history, that God’s Providence is powerful enough to guide the course of world events, and to bring meaning and order to the struggles and sufferings of our own lives. This loving and wise omnipotence of God, revealed by the babe in Bethlehem, is meant to be the source of our interior peace, a peace that goes deeper than the stormy circumstances all around us. If we put our faith in this message, like Mary in today’s Gospel, we too will be called blessed.
But there is another part to God’s Providence. Mary didn’t just believe in God’s promise; she acted on her belief. She said yes to God’s invitation; she put her life in his hands. In fact, her yes was the full expression of her faith.
During this week before Christmas, we too have a chance to give our faith in God its full expression. Amidst all the hustle and bustle of these holy days, God’s Providence will invite us not only to enjoy his grace and peace, but to spread it, to be visible signs – living billboards – of his goodness:
whether by how we treat the shopping clerks,
or by how we behave at the office Christmas party,
or by the patience we show to our visiting relatives,
or by taking time to reach out to the less fortunate,
or by inviting the lonely neighbor to come over for a cup of warm eggnog,
or to join us at Midnight Mass.
God’s Providence guides the course of history, but he doesn’t want his children to just be spectators – he invites us to be active partners in his work of everlasting peace. As we continue with this Mass, let’s make our heavenly Father smile by accepting that invitation.