The Perpetual “Yes”: Fourth Sunday of Advent

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we invite you to read this reflection from Mike Donehey:

In the first chapter of Luke, an angel tells Mary she's going to give birth to the Messiah, and though confused, distressed, and most likely bewildered, she wonders, "How can this be?" The angel answers her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you…nothing is impossible with God." And to this unthinkable proclamation, we hold our breath as she exhales, "Let it be to me according to your word."

…Unbelievable.

Mary, with all her confusion and unanswered questions, with the potential threat of being stoned by a ruthless culture, embraces the perpetual "yes" and submits her will to the life of God. I can't even imagine that sort of radical obedience. Of all the things to marvel at Mary for, this has to top the list. A teenage girl surrenders her life before the unthinkable command of her Lord. May we all learn to follow her in this way.

But there's something even stranger about this story. A few verses previous, her story is paralleled with the story of Zachariah. He was the father of John the Baptist. He also received word from an angel that a miraculous conception had taken place. His wife, Elizabeth, old and barren though she may be, was going to give birth to a son. But what's weirder than this news is how Zachariah seems to answer the angel the same way Mary did, but is met with a vastly different outcome. "How can this be? For my wife is old…"

Sounds just like Mary, right? That's what I always thought. Except, after his questions he isn't lauded and blessed like the virgin, but rather, he's cursed with muteness!!! Now, what's the deal, God!? Why can Mary have questions but he can't?

While working at a church, my friend, Andrew, helped me see the subtle but significant difference in their questioning. In a sermon to a group of college students, Andrew said, "There can be miles of difference in the heart of our questioning. It seems to me, Mary questioned to truly understand, while Zachariah questioned to further his doubt. I suppose you could call it the difference between scoffing and inquiry. Though they look the same on paper, they are radically different." In other words, say, “yes” to doubt. Say, “yes” to all you don't understand. Say, “yes” to your questions, but let there be a "yes" residing behind those questions.

It’s almost as if trusting in the bizarre and beautiful guidance of God will require us to humbly accept we won't always have every answer.

For me, years later, I often call these words of my friend to mind. It's beautiful to know living a perpetual "yes" doesn't mean I can't have questions. It doesn't mean I can't have doubt. Rather, it means I need to keep bringing my doubt boldly before the throne of God. There are no questions we cannot bring, if they are brought with a heart of humility. When you and I live the perpetual "yes," God can take us wherever he wills. We can bring things into our lives, and he can take other things out. When we live the perpetual "yes," we don't miss the posture he wants our hearts to have. We begin to realize accepting his life for our will is better than obsessing over his will for life. It is a subtle play on words. Do you see the difference? When we say we want God's will for our life, more often than not, we mean we want every answer to our every question.

We want to know we're on the right path. But the longer I follow God, the more I realize he's way less interested in me knowing the plan, and way more interested in me letting more of his life into my plan. His life is the plan, and his life for our will is ready for the taking. His life is the present tense. His life for our will is courage. His life for our will is peace. His life for our will is much less about a certain path to take, and much more about the awareness of his presence on every path, in every season. God is not a cosmic pirate holding out on us until we decipher the map. He is the treasure, and he's offering us himself, all the time, even now.

- Mike Donehey

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