4 Advent B – December 18, 2011 – Can We Say Yes?
Did you ever wonder what if Mary of Nazareth just said no? Did God have a back up plan? Was there a runner-up to the biggest honor in Christian history — to give birth to the messiah? Mary had at least one good reason for not accepting Gabriel’s invitation. According to this gospel, written about 85 years later, Mary was already engaged to Joseph. She knew in that culture that pregnancy outside of marriage was unacceptable and that she could have been severely punished perhaps even stoned to death. Nevertheless, the gospel we just heard tells us that this young teenage woman, although quite confused and afraid, did say yes.
There are many times in our own lives when we wish we could say no. No to sweets. No to getting up every morning to go to work or school. No when others ask us to do just one more thing. No to another person’s treasured ideas. Sometimes, whether we realize it or not, we might even find ourselves saying no to God.
On the other hand, there are many times in our lives when we accept difficult tasks, enter into relationships, take on responsibilities without ever considering the consequences to ourselves and to others affected by our decisions. Sometimes ideology, habits, temptations, the expectations of others, urge us to do things we really should not do. Caught up in the moment Mary did not ever imagine how difficult her motherhood would be. She just jumped in. What faith, she must have had.
The author Daniel Kahneman in his new book Thinking Fast and Slow  suggests humans are capable of rationalizing almost anything to deal with complexities in life, to back up the decisions we make. How do we overcome our own biases and illusions in our heads about what ought to be? Maybe irrationality is the norm.
With Christmas just a week away I suspect most of us are not terribly curious about how Mary got pregnant. Do we even care how Joseph felt about the whole affair? Forget for a moment that in other pre-Christian myths goddesses gave birth to heroes and gods without losing their virginity. Still, it is not our task to deconstruct or dismantle this story — one that we love to hear this time of year. It is the reason we take delight in the season. We give and get gifts. We connect with family members and friends. We reach out to strangers and pray for enemies.
Today’s scriptures affirm for us how important it is to stay connected with each other, how important human relationships are. Consider Joseph. We don’t know much about him but Joseph did not leave Mary alone. We are reminded today of how dependent we are not only on those who are close and familiar to us but also on the hidden dimensions of life, those things we take for granted — energy, food, water, air, light. We learn to respect nature and how its unpredictable patterns — droughts, floods, earthquakes and snowstorms — can ruin our plans and dash our dreams.
Of course, Mary’s “yes” opened the way for the fulfillment of the prophecy about the One who would come to show us how to be human to one another. It also points out how significant our relationship with God is. Just how do we let God into our lives when we are so busy doing the things we want to do? Setting aside our own agendas for the sake of the common good might be one way to start.
Perhaps Mary felt it was a once in a lifetime chance to let God enter her life even if in a most inconceivable way. By saying yes, Mary said no to having it her way. Perhaps she let go of any preconceived notions about her life in a harsh Mediterranean culture. The same thing happened to David in the first reading. He wanted to build a temple in Jerusalem but God had plans to build up a people. The temple would have to be built later by David’s son Solomon.
What happened to David happened to Mary and often happens to you and me. Sometimes, our own expectations can get in the way of other options for living. Last week, during our reconciliation liturgy, someone said to me she was in the process of redefining her life. That while she would continue to follow her instincts and think carefully before making choices, she also would be open to new possibilities. I think that if we saw Mary the Mother of God as a bright young woman, who had dreams of developing a career, raising a family and living in a supportive relationship, we might discover a woman who also took risks, exploring what was unknown and unimaginable.
Advent is almost over. As we await Christmas, “Come Emmanuel” has been our song; that is, God is with us. Can we say yes to that?
1 Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking Fast and Slow. (NY: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2011)