Photo Credit: jon_gilbertI tend to be the kind of person who always pulls for the so-called “underdog.”  Show me someone who is over-looked, under-estimated, disregarded, and I’m an instant fan.  I like scrappy teams that aren’t supposed to win; on Oscar night, I cast my vote for that low-budget Indy film that features actors I’ve never heard of; whenever I see a “David” pull off an upset against a “Goliath,” I’m inspired.  Tell me a story about someone who, against all odds, rises up from nowhere and refuses to quit until they have fulfilled their dreams, and I’m all ears.

This is why I love the season of Advent.  Every December we meet up with a cast of characters who, on the world’s stage, are nothing more than bit players and cast-offs.  We get people like the fiery John the Baptist – the drifter preacher chosen by God to get the people ready for the coming messiah.  People like Elizabeth, John’s mother – a relative nobodies who, in her advanced years, believed that God had blessed her for a very special purpose.  People like Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth – the hard-working Jewish peasant, chosen by God to be the Messiah’s surrogate father, despite having no previous experience as a father or as a husband.  And people like Mary, the teenage peasant who, as Luke says, was chosen on account of her “low estate” to bear the Son of God.  These are not only the ancestors of our faith, but the models of what it means to be faithful to God.  Despite extraordinary odds, each of them believed, persevered, and overcame every obstacle and excuse on their way to making history.

The Christmas story is God’s divine protest against the powers of this world that have proclaimed, from the very beginning of time, that you have to be someone in order to be useful; that you have to have a resume, a pedigree, an endorsement in order to make a difference in this world.  Christmas is God’s surprising proclamation that the poor and the forgotten not only matter to God, but are the main characters and indispensible instruments in God’s plan to redeem the world.

What makes them special is not simply that they were chosen by God, but that each of them, in the end, rose to the occasion and answered the call.  The timing may have been poor.  They most likely felt unprepared and under-qualified.  The risks were tremendous.  And yet, a way, a path, was opened up to them because each of them, like Mary, found a way to say, “Here I am, a servant of the Lord.  Let it be with me according to your word.”