Advent is upon us once again, bringing with it a new translation of the Sacred Liturgy, a new Church year, and the joyful anticipation of Our Lord’s arrival. For all three reasons, this Advent in particular elicits the joyful and grateful singing of the Te Deum:
You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you…
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.
One possible side effect of living in a culture that is wary of authority, defiant of anything that threatens universal equality, and skeptical of greatness is that it becomes almost second nature to project these very attitudes onto our relationship with God. Who is greater than God? Who is more powerful? Who has higher authority? It may perhaps be a temptation that plagues some of us to somewhere and in some manner, perhaps even in the deepest recesses of our hearts, be more inclined to fear or resent God’s greatness, than to welcome it with joy and praise. Advent, then, can be the perfect moment to renew why joy and praise should be the appropriate response, both in the liturgy and in our hearts, to God’s greatness.
It is true that God is greater than any created thing, for several reasons. He is unchangeable, He is eternal, He is perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, higher than the heavens, unsearchable, truth itself. But I want to suggest that there is one other crowning reason that God is so great, and that it is this reason ultimately that elicits our joy and praise: God is humble. His humility is His supreme greatness. As Church Father Damascene writes, “there is nothing greater than for God to become Incarnate.” For the instinctual human tendency to measure power by control, domination, and self-aggrandizement, it is paradoxical–and to those lacking the vision of faith, absurd–to define greatness by service. Yet that is precisely the lesson God is trying to teach us in becoming one of us. Motivated by extreme love for each and every one of us, for our eternal welfare, He used His greatness to redeem us, His Divinity to serve us.
Humility and love are inextricably intertwined. God’s humility, God’s love, sought more and more ways in the Person of Jesus Christ to demonstrate His sincere desire to serve, not to subjugate. Completely independent in Himself, He became utterly dependent on His mother for life; great beyond measure, He became a zygote; limitless, He freely welcomed the limitations of time, space and human nature; omnipotent, He became utterly helpless. Moreover, He chose to be born to a subjugated people, living among the poorest members of this people. He was born into a land that has the lowest altitude in the entire world. He lived the vast majority of His life working in hard manual labor, before living entirely on the generosity of others. When John proclaimed a baptism of repentance, He got in line with all the sinners, and waited His turn for John to baptize Him. He communicated with all the social outcasts of His time: lepers, tax collectors, women, thus earmarking Himself for rejection by the community. And He died the most ignominious death possible in His day, after first kneeling before each of His apostles and washing their feet, a task reserved for a servant.
What more could God do to demonstrate His love for each person?
No one can claim that he has “fallen too low” for God’s mercy, for God has been in all of the lowest places. He even has been among the dead, and has returned (cf. Spe Salvi 6). A human being goes nowhere that God has not personally visited in Christ Jesus, and thus personally graced as a path back to Himself, if we only turn to Him and ask for His help.
Because Christ “became man to set us free” and “did not spurn the Virgin’s womb,” he “has united himself in some fashion with every human being” (cf. Gaudium et spes 22). He desires to continue visiting every nook and cranny of this world where even one human person may be; He desires to continue accompanying every human life in all of its stages, all of its hopes and dreams, sufferings and wounds, battles and casualties.
This is what it truly means to build a culture of life: to be a transparent vessel for Christ to continue serving life in all of its stages, and in each person, whether that person is friend or foe. “What you did to the least of my brethren, you did to me” (Mt 25:40).
This is why joy and praise resound from the heart of the Church in response to her Lord. God’s greatness is not something to be feared or resented; we can trust God’s greatness when we see that He used His power to “seek and save what was lost” (cf. Lk 19:10); He used His power to serve… to love. It’s an honor to be Christ’s follower, to serve such a Good and Humble King, and this Advent we have the joy once more of preparing to receive Him, asking for the grace to proclaim anew with our words and our lives the Good News—the Gospel—of Jesus Christ.
Reprinted with permission of HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International.