Say Yes to God

Could Mary have said no?

This was the question one of my confirmation students asked me. Could Mary have said no?

Well, yes, she could have said no. She could have said to the angel Gabriel that this was just too much, that she wasn’t ready to be a mother, she wasn’t ready to be talked about behind her back or be disgraced because it wasn’t Joseph’s child. She could have said that she didn’t want the responsibility. She could have freely said no. Lucky for us, that’s not the way the Annunciation goes.

Mary said yes to God.

Through Mary’s “yes” the word became flesh and God was amongst us. Through Mary’s “yes” a child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary freely and willingly accepted her mission as the mother of God. She knew that the fruit of her womb, her son, Jesus Christ, was our redeemer, the perfect lamb by which the world would find its salvation. And she pondered on all of this in her heart because God chose her to love and take care of a small, innocent, and special baby. Mary’s “yes” aligned the will of God with her own will, obediently allowing herself to be an instrument of the Lord.

Mary’s “yes” was powerful.

In the Gospel reading for today, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.” That message is for us as well. The Most High, almighty and omnipotent God can do everything and anything—He made every inch of the universe. And nothing is impossible for God. Let us remember that in our hearts when we pray and when we walk up to the altar. Let us remember that the impossible does not exist to God. Whatever fear or doubt we might have in accepting God’s good word, let us renounce it. Whatever uncertainty we may experience that is stopping us from going forth with God’s plans, let us be aware to walk away from it.

In today’s society we are always busy. Our calendars are full of meetings, appointments, dinner parties, sports tournaments, work, and classes. The list goes on and on. We plan our schedules thinking that we are in control. The hardest thing for us to realize is that our lives are not our own; our lives belong to God and therefore should be centered around God. He is the one in control, and He is the one in charge of our final schedules.

God made us in His image to love us and for us to love Him. That love has to be given freely. So, yes, Mary could have said no. But it was her love for God that willed her to say yes and be open to receive baby Jesus in her womb. It is that same love for the Lord that will shape our individual lives. Through our own “yes” to God, we will be open to receive His many gifts of grace.

During this Advent season, as we are waiting and preparing our hearts for Jesus, let us prepare in a special way to do God’s will. Pray that when God changes our schedules we’d be open and willing to accept this change, always aligning our will with the will of God. Let us prepare to always want to say YES! to our God. That the uniqueness of our individual “yes” may be as powerful as Mary’s fiat.

Image Credit: The Annunciation, 1742, by Agostino Masucci [Public Domain]

A Great Light

The Christmas season is marked by light.  Lights strung around the tree, candles burning in windows, fireplaces warming homes, storefronts decorated with lights…  Many families will take a drive to go see the lights or see a tree in their city adorned with lights.  The beauty of light clearly draws us in. 

I’ve been rediscovering the glory of light as I watch my 2.5-month-old stare at lights — not just Christmas lights, but any kind of light.  I am realizing that we are born with an innate draw to the gift and mystery of light.  And while my sweet little baby stares with wonder at light, she is often being stared at by the people around her.  When we introduce her to friends and family, people find themselves circled around her, staring in wonder in the same way she herself stares at a light.  I’ve had two friends say in the past week that babies are like campfires — you feel like you can just stare at them forever.  There is a beauty, a wonder, and a joy in the presence of a baby and in the light of a campfire that draws our hearts.  This mystery of light is at the beginning of creation, as God himself created light before anything else (Genesis 1:3).  And this mystery of light is revealed to us further at the beginning of the Gospel, the beginning of our re-creation in Christ, as the Light of the world comes to us as a newborn baby.  How everyone present at Christ’s Nativity must have stared at this baby with an unmatched wonder and awe, as they stared at the One True Light Himself.  

Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.

The refrain of today’s Psalm taken from the Gospel of John (Jn 8:12) reminds us that as Christians, we possess the gift of light, for Christ is the fullness of light.  It is through Christ that we are called into union with the Creator of light, the Father, and made partakers in this light by the fire of the Holy Spirit. We may already be well aware that as Christians we possess the light of Christ, but this Advent, perhaps the Lord is calling us deeper, asking us to receive His light more fully. What area or aspect of your heart or life remains in darkness? These areas may take some prayerful digging to find. Anxiety, fear, hopelessness… Ask the Lord to reveal this place to you, in His gentleness and love. This is where the Lord yearns to be invited. To bring an end to any remaining darkness with the light of life.   

I hope that every light we see this Advent and Christmas points us to the One True Light Himself. The Savior of the world, God Himself, was born to us a beautiful, sweet baby. Come let us adore Him, and stare in wonder at the baby Jesus, the Light who changed everything.  

Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Stomer, 1632

The Long Night

And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
—Isaiah 29:18

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
—Psalm 27:1

During this time of year, when we have more hours of darkness than of daylight, the days can feel impossibly short and the nights endlessly long. It happens every year, but somehow we still find ourselves surprised every December when we walk outside at 5pm and the sun has already retreated. These long nights are the backdrop of our yearly Advent preparations and a blank canvas for all our Christmas light displays.

This week while teaching my Confirmation class, I asked my middle-school students whether they’ve ever gone stargazing. They replied with stories of watching the stars while traveling with their family, out in the country or even in the middle of the desert, where they could see the constellations clearly. Then I asked if they’d ever tried stargazing in Manhattan. They laughed and said that while they’d tried, they couldn’t really see anything from the city, and whenever they did it usually turned out to be a plane. Why is that, I asked? Well, because we have so much artificial light here that you can’t see anything else. Then I asked them to picture the night of Jesus’s birth, the first Christmas. Why did Jesus choose to come into the world during the darkest, coldest time of year, amid a sparsely populated desert, in the middle of the night? Could it be possible that all of that darkness made it easier for the wise men to see the light of the star? Might Jesus have come into the world amidst its cold, lifeless season as a sign of who He is for us?

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The child Jesus, born in the middle of a cold winter’s night, is the Light that shines in the darkness. In order to prepare ourselves to celebrate his arrival at Christmas, let us spend this Advent entering into the night, allowing ourselves to feel the emptiness of our human condition, and daring to quiet the noise of the world around us to breathe in the silence. Let us meditate upon the darkness that enveloped the world before His arrival, so that we can see His brilliance more clearly.

During this time of year, it can seem harder than ever to find a few minutes of silence and permit ourselves to be still. But God speaks to us in the silence and meets us in our emptiness. Let us make space for Him to speak instead of crowding our lives with so many distractions that we cannot hear His gentle voice. There is so much artificial light that fights for our attention during Advent, so much so that it may blind us from noticing the true Light of the world. But if we’re willing to take a step back into the dark, quiet night and realize our need for Him, the Star of Bethlehem will shine all the more brightly in our hearts. Our world, weary as ever, longs to receive that Light.

St. Andrew Christmas Novena:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

Adam_Elsheimer_-_Die_Flucht_nach_Ägypten_(Alte_Pinakothek)_2.jpg
Adam Elsheimer, The Flight into Egypt / PD-US

The Baby Who Changed Everything

Merry Christmas Eve, friends!

Last fall, I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One of the more comical moments of the trip was the day we went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Our group made our way down the narrow stairs to the cave where Jesus was born. It was wall-to-wall people, everyone wanting to shove their way through to kneel down and kiss the 14-point star on the floor where our Savior was born (14 points representing the 14 generations leading up to Jesus).

Despite the crowds, I was in awe and humbled by the simple little cave, and I was hoping for a powerful moment with our Lord when it was my turn to kiss the place where Jesus first met the earth. As I knelt down in reverence, imagining how the shepherds felt as they came to see Jesus, one of the people behind me literally shoved me onto the star. I laughed a little to myself and whispered, “Sorry, Jesus,” as I kissed the star, hearing the security guard in the background yell, “HEY! Watch what you’re doing!” at the person who pushed me.

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Nativity Star
The picture of the 14-point star at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that I somehow managed to capture in the crowds.

Though it was anything but a “Silent Night” moment of prayer, there was still something so profound about all the people who so badly wanted to cram into the place where Jesus was born. In our lives, what lengths do we go to to seek our Lord? What do we let get in the way? If we were the shepherds, if we were the Wise Men from the East, would we have trusted and followed the star to find the Messiah? Sometimes we need other people to shove us face-to-face with God, to give us the extra push we need to get past our fear to say yes to Him.

The crowd in that cave in the Church in Bethlehem was perfectly reminiscent of the mess Jesus came into when He was born. He was born among animals and dirt, sin and shame. He didn’t wait until we were in a perfect place to come into the world. Better yet, God chose to send His only Son into the world as a baby boy, totally dependent on human beings just like you and me to care for Him.

Who doesn’t love a cute baby? What baby can’t melt a person’s heart? Jesus knew that sometimes we find God hard to relate to, hard to connect with. God not only took on human flesh to understand what it means to be human, but He became a little baby to go to any length to help us know and love Him more.

I’ve been praying the St. Andrew Novena, which Erin wrote about last month. The most impactful part of the prayer for me has been that it asks Jesus to pray for you and hear your intentions in the exact moment of His birth. How awesome is that, that God works outside of time and that is possible! So, friends, tonight, I encourage you to talk to baby Jesus. Really talk to Him. Delight in Him. Adore Him. Hold Him and rock Him. Bask in His love, His innocence as a precious baby boy. Give Him your whole heart and do not be afraid—after all, what could a baby do to hurt you? Let the baby who changed everything change you.

Blessed Christmas to you and your loved ones! God is with us!