I don’t what your experience is of toddlers, but in my experience most toddlers go through a phase where they like very much to say ‘no’. Usually in a very definite way. Now partly of course this is because they discover that people say ‘no’ to them in a fairly firm way, and they like the noise and intensity of trying that for themselves. They also discover pretty rapidly that they receive far more attention, whether good or bad, when they say ‘no’ than when they say ‘yes’.
Now of course there are circumstances in life when it is very , very important to be able to say ‘no’. In all situations of abuse and violence; whenever our legitimate boundaries are threatened or our rights to liberty and free speech are at stake. It is right at the present time for example that we say ‘no’ to intimidation and violence, and that we resist racism and prejudice in all its forms.
However ‘no’ is never the end of the story. In some senses the whole Christian journey of maturity and spiritual development is about growing beyond our toddler selves and learning how to say an appropriate ‘yes’ – to say ‘yes’ to the promptings of the Spirit; to say ‘yes’ to the just needs of others, even when these conflict with our own self-interest; to say ‘yes’ even, and perhaps especially when we are afraid of what God may be asking of us...
As the scholar Marsh has written ‘ Jesus is able to take flesh because Mary’s humanity gives him that possibility’. Mary becomes the God bearer, the theotokos of Orthodx tradition. Her ‘yes’ does that. But of course that is our calling too. Each of us is called to grow up to be a God-bearer – each of us is called to grow up and say ‘yes’ – to say ‘yes’ to carrying the life of God within our own humanity. For in our own way and times we too are giving birth to Christ in and for the world.
So how is it done? How do we begin to say ‘yes’ to the life that God is busily creating within us, which may not at all be the life that we are creating for ourselves? No doubt Mary had her own plans all those years ago in Nazareth. She’d found the man she wanted to marry. They were both well regarded in their community. They were living peaceful, god-fearing lives. Probably she had it all neatly mapped out – the wedding, the carpenter’s shop, the children, the peaceful days of prayer and meals and domesticity. Until Gabriel appeared and everything was suddenly turned upside down.
Haven’t we all done that ourselves? Every single day we spend so much time thinking about things that have not happened yet – planning and anticipating – and yet at any time things can turn out very differently, which is why Jesus taught us to ‘take no thought for tomorrow’. Rather we are to pay attention to the work of God in us today, at this moment.
How do we say ‘yes’ to that ? Listen to how it happens in the life of Mary whose life is a pattern of discipleship for us all.
She begins in her head, in the way that we all do, questioning,” How can this be since I am a virgin?’. Isn’t this what we all do, when God brings to us a new call, a new way of looking at things? Don’t we say in different ways, ‘How can this be, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t fit with my understanding of the world, it’s just not possible?’. And I think very often that’s where it stays. We say ‘no’. We dismiss the call as some bit of foolishness that we dreamt and God smiles and waits for the next time we are listening.
But sometimes, just sometimes, the call of faith goes to our heart and we hear the words of Gabriel for ourselves, ‘nothing will be impossible with God.’ Nothing will be impossible. Just let the magnitude of that sink in for a moment. Nothing is impossible. Not world peace; not an end to hunger and disease; not forgiveness for that friend you haven’t spoken to for months because you quarrelled. Nothing is impossible.
And when we hear that – reeally hear it, in the depths of our souls, then we say ‘yes – yes, let it be – not what I had thought of; what you desire to bring to birth God in and through me.’
This week I found that I could pray these words of scripture in a simple way and I’d like to invite you to do that with me now, as a way to allow them to seep deep into our hearts as we open them to receive the new born Christ this Christmas. Whatever it is you are struggling with. Whatever it is you want to empty out of your heart so that there is space for the new born Christ I invite you to bring to this prayer as we pray today and in the coming few days.
So this is what you need to do. Make yourself comfortable. As you breathe in inwardly ask the question, ‘How can this be?’ and you may like just to hold that question there at the top of your breath. Then as you breathe out say to ourself ‘ Nothing is impossible with God’. And as you pause at the end of your outbreath say ‘let it be to me according to your word.’ Let’s just do that once more , breathe in ‘How can this be?. Breathe out ‘Nothing is impossible with God’. And then as you hold the breath out, ‘Let it be to me according to your word.”
Living God, make us bearers of Christ and teach us to say ‘yes’. Amen.