It’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and Mary said yes
Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B:
Old Testament: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm: Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
New Testament: Romans 16:25-27
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
May I write in the name of God, who is Creator, Liberator, and Sanctifier.
Here in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, we saw 28 inches of snow in 24 hours on Wednesday and Thursday, with more yesterday and today and even more still to come. It’s no surprise, then, that I got my family’s ’93 Honda Accord stuck on an unplowed side street Friday while picking up a friend for lunch – even though I had gone to my friend’s house straight from having studded tires put on the car. Fortunately, the couple whose house we were stuck in front of said yes when I asked if I could borrow their shovel, and even helped push the car as my friend floored the gas. As we drove off, we came across another stranded driver whose phone was broken, so of course I stopped and lent him mine. How could I say no to him after someone else had said yes to me?
Today’s Gospel is that familiar passage from Luke where the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her of her coming child. She is perplexed and afraid, but like my friend’s neighbors, said yes and accepted the challenge: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary said yes, and how tough that must have been! Can you imagine being in her shoes? We’ve got to remember, Mary is no 25-year-old homemaker eager for childbirth and motherhood. She was more than likely a rebellious older teenager, barely out of childhood herself, no life’s experience whatsoever, betrothed to an old man who was probably not of her own choosing. All of a sudden, this angel shows up, an ANGEL, a messenger OF GOD HIMSELF fuhcryinoutloud, and tasks her not with raising a child or correcting her local rabbi on some minor theological point, but of raising the ULTIMATE child, God’s only Son, the biggest rabbi of all, the Messiah Himself! You think you felt pressure raising your kids, worrying about every little germ, life’s lesson, or development issue? Just think about how that would have felt if you knew the kid were the world’s only Messiah! What enormous responsibility not to screw it up!
But Mary did not weep, nor did she buckle under pressure. She didn’t pull a Moses and point to her sibling, saying “Make her do it instead!” She didn’t even say, “Thy will be done, but please let my will be thy will.” No, she simply said yes.
Great things happen when we learn to say yes, but saying yes is a lot tougher than saying no. “No, I don’t want to go out today” lets us stay in our recliners at home, watching the Dallas Cowboys whup-up on the New York Giants (heck yeah they did!). It’s saying “yes” that pushes us out of our comfort zones. Last weekend’s News From Lake Wobegon was about just that – when you are young, you are obligated to attend awful plays and concerts at your nephew’s elementary school or to shop at stifling church bazaars. This changes as you age, for you are able to use excuses like bad knees or small patches of ice that don’t really hinder you, but you can convincingly pretend that they do and stay home, where you want to be, out of the cold, without offending anyone.
But I have to add to GK’s monologue, what if the year you claimed to fear the ice was the one year your knobby-kneed awkward little niece finally found her voice, and nailed “O Holy Night” more beautifully than even Pavarotti? Or what if someone had donated a record to the bazaar, maybe something from Dean Martin, and it was exactly like a copy your late older sister had given you that you had lost long ago, and now miss terribly as it would be something to remember her by? Great things can happen when we say yes – we catch that rare performance, and find that it’s worth all the garbage we had to wade through for it; we find that record, and the tears warm our cheeks from the cold.
Last month, I posted a reflection from a family friend named Jamie, who along with her husband had sheltered a man who had no home after seeing his St. Bernard puppy walking along the road. A puppy like her own opened Jamie’s heart and allowed her to say yes to a child of God in need. This incident had a profound effect on Jamie, who has spent the last two weeks helping run the local warming center, for which St. Luke’s Episcopal Church serves as a backup. Temperatures here in Coeur d’Alene this month have rarely crawled above 15 degrees, and there are many in the region with no home or without reliable heating who need a place to warm up and grab some hot cocoa at 3am when the mercury drops to five below. Sitting with the unwashed homeless for hours on end with a nasty, snowy, 20-minute drive between you and home is enough to push just about anyone out of their comfort zone, but Jamie is still willing to say yes. As a result, God’s love has been shown to countless children of Coeur d’Alene this month.
There is movie currently in theaters, called “Yes Man” and starring Jim Carrey, about just this. The trailers don’t look particularly appetizing so I have no plans to see or recommend the movie, but its plot could not be more timely for Advent: a negative man who always says no, shooting down ideas in the workplace and refusing to try new things for himself, is put under a spell where he can only say “yes,” turning his whole life around.
My prayer for us as a society is that we learn to go beyond our personal comfort zones and say “yes” rather than “no.” We’ve got to donate amounts to charity that we don’t think we can afford; we’ve got to spend personal time with the invisible among us who feel forgotten. What would our world be like if Martin Luther King Jr. had told his fellow Alabama clergymen no, you may not use my church basement for your planning meetings, it’s too risky? What would our world be like if William Wilberforce had told Thomas Clarkson no, slavery may be wrong but my career is too important and I won’t join you in your abolitionist cause? What would it be like if St. Thomas had told Christ no, I don’t think your scars are real, and I will not spread your church to Asia?
And what would it be like if Mary had said no to Gabriel?