I like the word YES. I like to say YES and I like it when people say YES to things I want to do and buy.
My children love it when I say YES.
We all love the word YES don’t we. It is such a positive word.
This is the last Sunday of Advent. Our preparation, our waiting is nearly over. We will soon celebrate the coming of God as a human being into our world – the incarnation!!
In this season of Advent and Christmas we are celebrating God’s YES to us.
God’s YES that he would leave heaven and become a human being – God’s YES that he would provide a way out of sin for us – God’s YES that he would reconcile himself to us.
Christ’s coming into the world – God becoming a human being – God’s YES to humanity shook the foundations of creation. The Creator stepped into his creation. Philippians says that Jesus took the form of a slave, the likeness of men. This is what is meant when the New Testament talks of the great Mystery which has now been revealed – the coming of God as a human being. Christ’s coming also sent shock waves through the spiritual realm. Why does Jesus encounter so much demonic activity. Of the 61 references to demons, demon or evil spirits in the New Testament, 52 occur in the gospels. Jesus’ presence stirred up the spiritual realm. Finally, Christ’s coming impacted irreversibly the lives of those who encountered Him in the first century as it has done for all who have encountered Him since.
To believe in and to encounter the incarnation of God has consequences. It requires something from us. God’s YES to us requires a response from us. It requires us to say YES to God.
Saying YES to God is more than believing in God. I don’t know if you have ever noticed this with regards to Abraham. Abraham is credited righteousness for what? Not for believing IN God – but for BELIVING GOD. Abraham believed God.
You see, trusting / believing God is not just about accepting that God exists; or that we will go to heaven; or that he will give us good things, or that he will bless us. Ultimately, trusting / believing God is to say YES to God – YES you can do with me as you please. Yes, I utterly accept your word ad promises and will live as though they are true.
It is to place ourselves, to entrust ourselves, into the hands of God.
And to do that – to say Yes back to God – may rock the boat of our lives.
Of course, many would prefer to have a quiet life. The problem is that a quiet life and saying YES to God are not compatible! If our YES to God really means “please would you just keep the status quo” then we will soon end up very disappointed, even angry at God because God is not passive with us when we say YES to him. When we say YES to God he begins to work his purposes in us. Our yes to God means we have given him permission to act. So he begins to work his purpose for our lives. He begins to put us into situations and give us opportunities to grow and fulfill the purpose he has for us.
In our Gospel reading this morning Mary emphatically said YES to God.
How remarkable that Gabriel who stands in the presence of God comes to this insignificant place called Nazareth. Don’t let this pass you by too quickly. The God of the Universe had seen Mary, this insignificant, poor woman and had included her into his plan to reveal His purposes. Don’t ever think you are too insignificant for God to use you powerfully!!
God chose not to come into a home of wealth, or privilege but to be born as the majority of humanity is born – into poverty. Notice the Angel’s opening line, “Hail, O Favoured One, the Lord is with you.” The word here for favour is Kharetoo – which means to honor with blessing. Later the Angel says “Do not be afraid, for you have found favour with God” – and the word favour there is slightly different, Kharece, which means the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace. The point is that 1. Mary is about to be honored with a blessing and 2. That blessing is going to require Mary to be governed by divine power.
The Angel’s declaration to Mary was that her life was about to be forever changed. And not in an easy way – in fact far from it.
Mary was almost certainly a teenager – anywhere between 14 and 16 years of age – betrothed to Joseph. Now in the Jewish custom, betrothal was more than what we would consider engagement. When Bethrothed the couple would be regarded and known as husband and wife and in some cases were known to live together until the Wedding feast. But the normal practice was that they would have lived apart until the wedding feast. Only divorce or death could terminate this betrothal.
If Mary and Joseph had been, as expected, living apart until the wedding feast, for Mary to tell Joseph that she was pregnant would have meant only one thing to Joseph – that she had cheated on him.
The shame associated with a woman cheats outside of wedlock was, in those days, huge. The law demanded death – Deut 22:23-24 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.
By Mary’s day, stoning would have been improbable. But that this was a scandal of huge proportions we know from Matthew 1:19. Joseph had no desire to make this public. His plan was to divorce her – send her away quietly. The public shame for Mary & her family would have been terrible. Joseph was a man who followed the law of God and he could not associate himself with such a violation of the law. To have married Mary would have brought the scandal into the public eye, because she would soon show her pregnancy, and everyone would have known that Joseph could not have been the father because they had been living apart. It would have also said two things about Joseph 1. He knew Mary had broken the law and had been unfaithful to Him, 2. He would accept the illegitimate child as his own, both of which would have been condemned by the religious leaders of Nazarath.
By saying YES to God, Mary’s reputation (and Joseph’s) would probably forever be in ruins. Her life would be tarnished within her community and she was likely known as the woman who got pregnant by another man before her marriage. Let’s be honest – what would YOUR reaction have been if Mary’s family had been YOUR neighbor, and Mary’s mother told you that it was OK that Mary was pregnant because it was God’s will!
No wonder the Angel said to her “Do not be afraid.”
The accumulation of centuries of prophecy was about to be fulfilled – in this respect Mary was Blessed. Jewish women longed to be the mother of the Messiah – it was their dream. But God also knew that Mary was able to endure what was to come – this was a hard road for her to travel.
Did Mary understand the ramifications of her decision to say to the Angel Gaberiel “May it be to me as you have said.”? I think she did. To know that you were about to become pregnant in her culture while not yet living with the man she had been betrothed to had massive implications.
As Advent, and our time of waiting comes to an end and we prepare to celebrate God’s coming – his Incarnation, are we ready, are able to say YES to God today? YES we believe You Lord – We believe every word – every promise – every command and we will live in that belief? Are we willing to say YES to God and all that goes with it – to accept that such a decision may not just change some things in our life, but that it may radically change the whole course of our life? The world may not understand some of the things we may do, or that God may ask us to do. Maybe our reputations may take a hit, or God may ask us to give something up, or to be involved with something that we thought we would never be involved with? Or to go on mission instead of having a vacation. Maybe some may be asked to give up their lives for the gospel.
This is what the incarnation – the coming of Christ – requires us to do.
Mary’s YES forever changed the whole direction and content of her life.
Of course when we say YES to God we know that our lives are in the hands of the eternal Creator of ALL things. Maybe the Angels words to her “The Lord is With you” and “You have found favor with God” made Mary aware of the closeness of the presence of God. For despite all the difficulties that Mary was to endure by saying YES to God, in that YES comes a promise from HIM that HE will be with us – HE will uphold us, to carry us, to strengthen us in the difficulties we face and ultimately carry us through death into eternity.
That is Paul’s final words to the Church in Rome, Now to him who is able to strengthen you & according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith. When we say yes to God – it is God who strengthens us to do the things he calls us to do and it is God working in us that brings about the obedience of faith – that is living OUT our faith.
When Mary said yes, as she entrusted herself to God – as we entrust ourselves to God and say yes, we are saying, it’s not by our strength but God’s, it not our effort, but God in us that will take us through, and will accomplish all that he desires for us.
Can we say this morning with Mary “YES Let it be to me according to your word.”
I pray that we would – and that in the weeks and months ahead we would be transformed into his likeness.