1. It’s four days away from Christmas Eve, and millions of children all over the world have made their gift wishes known to Santa Claus. Some have seen him in person and sat on his lap, others have written him letters. Some have even sent him emails! I saw at least a dozen websites where you can send Santa an email and he’ll send you one back.
2. It’s fun to play the wish fulfillment game, but we have to be careful to remember that it’s just a game. Real life isn’t that way, and real spirituality isn’t that way either. To treat other people as if they exist only to give us what we want is to treat them as less than human. And to treat God as if he exists only to fulfill our wishes is to treat him as less than God.
3. Let me give you an example that illustrates what I’m talking about. What if I decided that I wanted to work for Microsoft? I’d send Bill Gates an email and say, hey Bill, I want to work for you, so give me a job. I’d like to work out some ideas that I have for some new Windows apps. I want to get paid $100 an hour plus benefits. And, Bill, I really don’t want to move to Seattle and all that rain, so I’d just like to work out of my home, and I’d like to work as much or as little as I want each week.
4. Let’s just say that Bill Gates actually reads my email and responds. Is he going to say, “Sure, Patrick, whatever you want!”? Probably not! At best he might invite me to apply for a job that’s available and see if my skills match what they’re looking for. If they did, they’d make me a job offer that included how much and where they want me to work and what they are willing to pay me.
5. That’s because Microsoft has a vision and a plan for fulfilling that vision, and they’re really only looking for people who are willing to serve that plan. Why would they be interested in anyone else? It’s naïve to think that it’s all about me and what I want. If I go to work for them, I’ll be serving that master.
6. Sometimes we treat God like Santa Claus, as if he exists only to give us what we want. But (and I hate to say this) God is actually a little more like Microsoft. Like Bill Gates, God has a kingdom, a vision and a plan for fulfilling that vision, and he’s looking for people who are willing to serve his kingdom, vision and plan. But all too often our vision is way too small and self-centered. We tell God what we want, then when he doesn’t give it to us, we think that he doesn’t care for us or that he doesn’t really exist. So we go off on our own, making plans and choices to fulfill our vision for our life. And we wonder why things don’t work out the way we wanted them to, and why getting what we want doesn’t always make us truly happy and fulfilled.
7. Today’s Gospel shows us the way life is supposed to work, the way things really are. God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary and tells her, “God has a plan to save the human race from its stupidity and sins, and, Mary, you have an essential part in that plan. Here’s what your part is.” Mary asks a respectful question, “How is this going to happen?”, but she doesn’t question God’s plan, as outlandish and impossible as it sounds, not does she try to negotiate an alternative plan, and she doesn’t even mention what she wants out of life. She simply says, “You know I serve God’s kingdom, vision and plan, so God can count on me.”
8. Mary is often called the first disciple, and she is certainly the role model for all disciples. What she does is so simple that it is often overlooked and undervalued. But what she does is the essence of all discipleship. She understands that God is God and she is not. She is the creature created by God to do what God made her to do. That is her understanding of reality. Everything in her life serves that basic truth. And she knows that God is good and that he loves her, and that his plan is good, so she trusts him with her happiness and fulfillment. She knows that giving herself to God’s plan for her life is going to be the smartest thing to do. With God, and only with God, will she find the happiness and fulfillment that she most deeply desires.
9. And how did that work out for her? Well, she had to endure a lot of pain, suffering and loss. But in the end, the meaning and value of her life far exceeded her wildest dreams. Her happiness is greater than any of us can imagine, and the Catholic Church declares her to be the greatest human being of all time and the greatest human dispenser of God’s gifts and graces. She’s huge!
10. And, while it worked out great for her in the end, she didn’t do it for that reason. She simply did what God had for her to do, in her time and place, to the best of her ability, and God used her mightily to fulfill his plan of blessing for the entire human race and for all of creation.
11. And this is how it can be for each one of us. Unlike Bill Gates, God actually has a job for each one of us. Each of us has an important part in God’s plan to save human beings from stupidity, sin and unnecessary suffering, and, like Mary, we’ll discover our true greatness and happiness in living out our part in our time and place to the best of our God-given ability. If we don’t know what our part is, then we need to ask God to show us. “God, I know that you love me and have a wonderful plan for my life. Please show me what it is and give me the grace to accept it with all my heart. You can count on me, God.”
12. This is what it’s all about. Because Mary accepted and lived out God’s plan for her life, we got Christmas, including Santa Claus. Most importantly, we got Jesus, who died for our sins so that we could live with God and Mary and all the saints and Gabriel and all the angels in heavenly happiness forever.
13. What will happen, then, if each one of us does what Mary did? We’ll never know, and the world will never know, unless we try. “God, I know that you love me and have a wonderful plan for my life. Please show me what it is and give me the grace to accept it with all my heart. You can count on me, God.”