You hear the neighbors saying: “There is a strange man in town!” Then everyone rushes to the place to see what is going on. You also join the crowd. Yes, a strange man, even bizarre, is standing there speaking to people about things you have never heard of. The way he dresses is awkard. His hairs are all ruffled. People say he lives in the desert and eats locusts and wild honey (yikes!)
His face doesn’t look friendly at all. People stand there talking about him. Some are interested in him, others feel disgusted. Some clap their hands, others express their contempt. However, after a few minutes, they begin to calm down their discussion and listen to him. His appearance is not attractive but he seems to have a sincere heart. Some people even follow him.
Dear friend, this strange man is actually a man of excellence, spoken of by many generations, not so much of his appearance but of his strong and holy spirit. The way he dresses, in the contemporary trandition, actually embodies the great prophet Elijah that people have long waited to come back to prepare the way for the Savior of the world. Indeed, he is the one who prepares His way and introduces Him to people when He comes. This strange-looking man, John the Baptist, is complimented by Jesus as blessed and important among human race. From his time up to this very day, for more than two thousand years, he has been spoken of as an excellent example of how to live a good human life with dignity.
Then, in this human history which is rich and diverse comes a woman. She is small in stature. Her appearance is not impressive. Her voice is not as sweet as that of a singer. Her beauty is just quite ordinary. However, numerous people of this very world of ours, from the little to the powerful, from the poor to the rich, bowed before her with admiration and gratitude. When she went to the heavenly Father, billions of people shed their tears since she had become a saint in their souls, a mother in their hearts, mother Teresa of Calcutta.
I also knew an old lady. Her skin was wrinkled by years of hard work; her back was bent due to heavy burdens of life. People called her the “ugly lady”, perhaps just with some humor rather than contempt. After the sun had gone to sleep, she came home – a little room she rented in a slum. Though it was late, she still continued to work until midnight to cook peanut sticky rice so that the next morning she would sell it to earn a little more money. After finishing selling the sticky rice, she walked through all the streets in town to sell lottery tickets [a job for jobless poor people in Vietnam]. Her life was just the same with those routines for decades. Perhaps she never went watch a 3D movie, a thing quite popular for many this day. Perhaps she never dared to stop by a crowded fashion shop. Perhaps no one knew who she was or what was in her soul. She was all quietly living her ordinary life, like a shadow receiving no notice, like a silent song among many noises of this world.
Then one day, she said goodbye to this world. Her funeral was poor. Only very few came to see her the last time. This quietness made it sadder. This sadness made it even more miserable when one saw the tears keep running down from the eyes of two young men. No one had ever thought that each piece of sticky rice she made every night, each lottery ticket she sold everyday, each step of her walking on every road in those years created a miracle: those two little orphans had become two excellent students. The day they received their degrees to walk into a bright future was also the day she said goodbye to them to go enjoy the eternal happiness with her heavenly Father after having excellently accomplished her mission of love. The lady ‘ugly’ is beautiful, isn’t she?
My dear friend, it is often said: “Things are not always as they look.” Ordinary experience also helps us see that appearances are deceptive. One must be very careful in making judgment about others. Making a judgment based on the appeareance easily leads us to short-sightedness and misundertanding and damages others’ reputation and dignity. After recognizing the greatness of John Baptist, people don’t ever think that the carpenter Jésus from Nazareth is even much greater. When Jesus dies horribly on the cross, no one would think of his mighty resurrection from the dead that can save all. When each blood drop of Jesus’ diciples falls to the dry and lifeless ground, who would expect the seed of faith to be sprouting in the soul of thousands, or even millions of others. Who would think a simple act of love could convert the heart of a cold-blooded killer? Isn’t it surprising that each little moment of patience can make a great saint? Have we not seen love most wonderfully prosper in sacrifice? …
Dear friend, the happening of those good surprises comes from an unexpectedly simple reason: God loves us more than we can imagine and He knows what we need. Moreover, you know what, this God of wonderful surprises has created the least expected surprise in the history of the whole creation; that is, offering us the most precious gift of His: Emmanuel – God with us – in the person of Jesus Christ. My dear friend, let us open our hearts and hands to gratefully receive THIS GIFT during this special season!
Joseph Việt, O.Carm.