Reflection for Sunday – December 24, 2023

Readings: 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38 
Preacher: Gloria Ulterino

To what do we say Yes? 

Now, that’s a challenging question, isn’t it?  It certainly must have been, for Mary, as well.  Here she was, a young teenager.  From a tiny, backwater town, of little account.  She lived in a home that looked like so many others in her village of Nazareth—small, and totally unimpressive.  At the same time, she was recently engaged to a man known to be just and kind—because of the arrangement made by her parents, undoubtedly as the best possibility for her future. 

I still remember, so many years ago now, hearing this story back in my public elementary school, just before Christmas vacation.  Each year we would gather, in our own classrooms, for there was no auditorium.  We would settle in.  Until there was a hush.  And then, each year, a student would proclaim, without microphones, from the first or second floor gathering space.  Invariably we would hear, “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth.”  I still remember saying to myself, “Oh, yes.  That story.  I love that story!”

Today, I still love that story.  But now, after so many years of living and pondering, other questions have emerged.  This one, in particular, stays with me: To what do I say “Yes!”  To what do we, each of us, in our own way, say “Yes?”  And why?

With all the hustle and bustle that this season regularly brings, it’s so difficult to find … or to make… the time for such reflection, isn’t it?  But maybe, as 2023 nearly comes to its close, this might be just the time to engage in such pondering.  This year, Mary’s question to the angel drew me in: “how can this be?”  It’s impossible, isn’t it?  But, no, absolutely no, insists the angel: “for nothing will be impossible for God.”  What does that mean to me?  And to you, right now?

We all have our passions, don’t we?  Something we care deeply about.  Something for which we have gifts.  Something that can help make a better world, even in the tiniest way.  I remember the first preaching workshop I participated in, now many years ago.  The preacher, Sr. Joan Delaplaine—who traveled the country inspiring so many folks—gave a homily I’ll never forget.  She “became” the man in chapter five of John’s Gospel, the one who had been sitting by the side of the pool of Bethsaida for 38 long years.  Until Jesus came along … and healed him … without his even asking for it.  His reaction?  Now what will I do?  What will it take for me to get up … as a healed person … and work?  A huge question for each of us, for all of us, with each of our God-given gifts.

At the same time, there are so many troubling situations in today’s world.  This time of the year, with our preparations for and celebrations of the birth of Jesus, we can’t help but be drawn into the news of conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.  Into conflicts that today affect many men and many women, or even one man and one woman.  I was just reading the story of one Israeli American woman, whose family was taken captive on October 7th by Hamas; they were three of the 240 Israelis captured that day.  She still re-lives the horror of captivity, rape, and death of two family members.  Now freed, she begs us to stand up against any act of terrorism.  Write to your representatives in Congress, she urges.  For, as the Talmud proclaims: “Whoever saves one life… saves an entire world.”

Along different lines, another woman in the newspaper addressed the crisis of creating a healthy environment for us all, even during a possible time of disaster.  Her advice?  Gradually build up a stockpile of nonperishable food, enough to survive a crisis.  Be sure to include enough for those around you.  And, in the process, be assured that such connection will help more and more people to survive any major catastrophe.

To what, then, do we say “yes,” especially during this sacred time when God actually took on human flesh, in and through the person of Mary?  Can we, like Mary, truly believe that “nothing will be impossible with God”?  Can we name the gifts that God has given each of us for the good of others?  Can we be attentive to developing and using them for the benefit of others?  Can we search for other people or groups with whom we might share our concerns?  Finally, and importantly, to what extent might we experience the birth of Jesus in a whole new way? 

Gloria Ulterino
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