“Talo ka sa lolo ko….” Not only can jokes of this type make you slap your knee in laughter, they can also make you stroke your chin in thought. This is humor which tickles your funny bone and at the same time, touches something deep inside of you, something raw, something that makes you flinch. And so you fall back to a socially acceptable defense mechanism – you laugh.
“Talo ka sa lolo ko….” It is pataasan ng ihi. And the one who angles the trajectory of his urine higher and higher inevitably gets his face wet. Lurking behind the silly one-upmanship is not just a competitive streak but an insecure self that must pull down others to feel boosted up. The painful punch line: Someone (if not everyone) always ends up talo.
None of this rivaling is present in our Gospel today. Before the passage presented for our reflection today, Mary is told that she will be the mother of the Son of the Most High, the one who will inherit the throne of David and rule forever. She could have then prepared to bask in glory and just waited for others to make the journey and come to pay homage to her. Instead, she is the one who travels in haste and goes on a pilgrimage.
Mary sets off to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is also with child, though advanced in years. One can imagine that Mary goes to her much older cousin to help her through the difficult and delicate stages of her pregnancy. Elizabeth, seeing Mary, could have said, “Aba! Ako ang binisita! Talo siya sa lola mo!” But instead, Elizabeth humbly asks, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” In other words, “Who am I to be given this great honor?”
Elizabeth’s wonder and amazement and gratitude are triggered by the infant in her womb leaping for joy. This baby we will later meet as the Baptist called John, who will profess, “One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” John is first on the stage – he is conceived first and will begin his ministry first. John will already have quite a following before Jesus comes to be baptized by him. Yet what will John do? He will point his disciples to follow Jesus instead. This future scene between the adults John and Jesus is already playing out as the babies John and Jesus meet for the first time.
Can you greet with genuine gladness someone you have been told is greater than you? Can you proclaim his or her greatness to others – as John did, first to his mother and later on to his own followers? Or will you be filled with scorn and retreat deep into the cave of self-pity, disappointed you amount only to second place? In the Good News we hear today, the infant John leaps for joy. Where there is no competition, there is joy.
Mary could have received the adulation given to her (“Blessed are you among women! Blessed is the fruit of your womb!”) and let it go to her head. Instead, she takes it to her heart, as she will do with all the other events in her life with Jesus, and she sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!” She directs all the praise to God for she knows this is not just about her. This is about something bigger.
And perhaps, this is how we can go beyond petty competition – by seeing we are not opponents vying for one prize. The prize is not just for one but for all. We are all part of something bigger.
See the pattern of movement here: The angel identifies Mary as the favored one, but Mary does not get wrapped up in her own blessings. She runs to Elizabeth who needs her. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb could have just enjoyed his time in the spotlight, but John, the man who would later be described as a burning lamp (see John 5:35), shines the light on Jesus. Praise after praise is heaped upon Mary and her child, but Mary gathers all these and lifts them back to God. This is Christmas – when you never stop with yourself but keep on going out to others. If we do not stop with our own greatness, we become something greater. The movement of Christmas is a movement out of one’s self to become something bigger, to become part of each other.
Let us not forget who started all of this: God who did not get stuck on his throne – heaven could not hold him – but who went out of himself to take part in our lives.
When a birthday celebrant invites people to a birthday party, who should be ready to receive gifts? The one whose birthday it is, of course. Who should be giving gifts? Those invited, right? But something strange happens on Christmas, the birth of our Lord. The birthday celebrant is the one giving us the gift, and the gift is the celebrant himself. This is how he celebrates – by giving himself away. Again, the movement of Christmas is a movement out of one’s self.
As we end 2018, maybe it would be good to look back at the year that was and see: Who are those who have gone out of themselves for you? Thank them and the Lord for them. Have you gone out of yourself, too? How are you being called to go out of yourself this coming 2019?