Arise and Shine (Luke 1:39-45)

I will never forget the day I learned to keep my good news to myself.

I was at a gathering of youth ministers, and our discussion turned to various things that were happening in our parishes. My parish was having a great year; we had incredible growth among the teenagers, the priest was supportive, and we were receiving a lot of financial support. God was being very good to us, so when it was my turn to share, I offered up a glory story from the previous Life Night.

And was met with eye rolls and under the breath comments.

“Of course, your parish is perfect.”

“Wow, why don’t you brag a little bit more.”

“Well – too bad we all can’t be as great as you are.”

“There he goes again – trying to ‘one up’ everyone else.”

I can’t vouch for consistent humility in my life, but on this occasion, I wasn’t trying to brag or rub the success we were having at my parish in anyone’s face. I really just wanted to share the good things that were happening with the people that supported me as a youth minister.

Nor can I honestly say I’ve never been on the opposite end of that interaction. I’ve dished out my fair share of anti-good news angst on plenty of youth ministers. I had trash talked and gossiped about how “fake” or “unrealistic” or “attention-hungry” people were. How dare they talk about the blessings in their life when clearly I am languishing and in pain. How long, O Lord, will you forget about me while my enemies flourish?

Let’s all step back – can we realize how ridiculous this mentality is? Can we also acknowledge how pervasive it is and how most of us are really, really guilty of it? If only there were some scriptural imagery that we could use to put our poor behavior in perspective and challenge us? Wait, there totally is – the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (Luke 1: 39-45).

Going the Distance

Mary travels to see Elizabeth in a moment we call “The Visitation.” Mary is carrying Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, in her womb and travels to see her cousin to celebrate the good things happening. There is a double humility happening here, because when they meet Elizabeth (who has been barren) puts her excitement aside and praises Mary. They rejoice together. Mary comes humbly to Elizabeth to celebrate, and Elizabeth celebrates Mary.

God has done good things in the lives of both these women, and both still face challenges. Mary is going to go into exile soon. Elizabeth is older and bearing a child is a challenge, plus her husband is currently mute (OK, so maybe that isn’t a huge burden). Despite all of that, the two celebrate each other.

This humility and celebration are a ministry model we can get behind. Mary and Elizabeth live out what St. Paul later teaches us about “anticipat[ing] one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). We rejoice with the good things that happen in the lives of our friends and fellow ministers, rather than taking them personally. We assume that people aren’t really bragging, they are celebrating. This changes everything.

Humble Thyself

Of course, this means that we need to practice humility ourselves because sometimes we do brag. We don’t always share the glory story with the pure intent of praising God. We need to be ready to praise others and give humble praise to God for good things. If we can do this, though, our diocesan meetings, 2:42 gatherings, and conferences will be that much more enjoyable. We will greet each other by asking what good things God is doing, and give thanks together as we share. We will stop worrying about sharing a glory story only to be shut down, and we will allow ourselves to really celebrate with our friends, co-ministers, and colleagues.

It must begin with you. It is hard to be the first person to act humbly because we can get jaded quickly (wow, nobody else even cares!). But the first step and witness can go a long way. It can redefine the conversation and elevate how we share, journey, and pray with one another. Take that step and God will be glorified through it.

About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @LT_Jstepanek.

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