2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
We have a family tradition of watching It’s A Wonderful Life prior to Christmas at our home. Well, we watch a lot of Christmas specials every year, to be honest, including the Grinch, Charlie Brown, Polar Express, and some others. But It’s A Wonderful Life is a tradition with special meaning, a movie where the main character lives up to the aspirations of what noted Catholic writer Michael Kelly calls the “best version of yourself.” For those of you who have not seen it, it is a movie about George Bailey, a good man who in a moment of despair just before Christmas questions his whole life as to its meaning and value. He’s given a chance to see just what the world would have been like had he never been born, and it was significantly worse off, as were all the people’s lives around him that he’d touched over the years in a very positive way. In the end it turns out that the people whose lives he has made better come to his rescue this time, helping him out of the bind which had put him into his fit of despair. George Bailey realized that he’s truly had a wonderful life at the end of the movie.
I think that most of us would be interested in the outcome if our guardian angel allowed us to see the impact that our lives have had, for good or for ill, on those around us. George Bailey said “yes” throughout his life to ways of doing good for others, and we saw what it would have been like if he said “no,” or at least wasn’t there to say “yes,” which amounts to about the same thing. Today, the Gospel showcases the woman who said “yes” to God, and we see, especially on Easter and Christmas, how this has profoundly affected the world. She could have said no – God gives all of us free will – but she did not, but accepted the challenge of a life being the first Christian and a joyful disciple.
We read this exact same Gospel just two weeks ago on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Here we see it again. Then, we were celebrating the role that Mary played in God's plan. Now, we celebrate the effect that plan had on the salvation of the world. Then, we reflected on God's preparation for Mary to love Jesus and nurture Him for His mission. Now, we reflect on our own preparations during Advent on how we show our love of Jesus, our love of God, and how we further that mission in our lives and in the world.
Mary could have said no. She could have been a bundle of self-centered concerns that so many obsess about today with modern psycho-babble. She could have said that she had plans for her life and didn't want to interrupt her goals and objectives with the needs of others. She could have rambled on about the need for “self-actualization” or “personal fulfillment.” She could have said that she was not willing to take a risk with a plan that was short on the details, which required so much trust. Maybe the angel could come back in a few days with a more detailed business plan, mapping out the strategy, spending targets, and more details on the compensation and bonus program. No, Mary had a trust that was childlike in its simplicity and commitment but mature and venerable in its wisdom.
We, too, have a choice about bringing Christ into this world, just as Mary did. We honor and venerate Mary, just as we do all of the saints who have answered God's call to holiness and service. God is all-powerful and therefore would have completed his plan even if Mary had said no. But the fact that she said yes serves as the role model for us to say “yes” as well, even though God will continue to be God with or without our assistance too. And doing so will make a difference in the world for those people around us as well as people outside of our own sphere in ways we will never know.
Our parish intention this week is for families. The domestic church is the place that we say “yes” the most, but also can be the easiest place to do so, sometimes, since a blood relationship carries a special connection. Yet even here it can be difficult sometimes to show the love that we are called on by God to show, doing what is in the other person's interest and not necessarily our own. Often we feel that we are doing what is best for the other person, but fail to realize that we are looking at their situation through our own eyes, or life and experiences, and not theirs. Our council can frequently be confusing at best and an over-simplified reaction to a complex situation that is unhelpful. What people sometimes need most is someone to understand what they are going through and being with them through it. Sometimes that can be the best Christmas gift of all. The angel didn't give Mary many specifics on what was being asked of her, but she resolved to see it through nonetheless, to be with Jesus and Joseph to provide the foundation which was the human nature of Christ.
One of the things I like best about It's a Wonderful Life is that, although it is often a little sentimental, it did not show George Bailey as a one-dimensional goody-two-shoes. He has faults, and the movie shows him reacting badly in several circumstances. But he acknowledges his failings and does not let them define him. And eventually, after he thinks through a situation, he says “yes” to doing what he sees as the right thing to do even though he'd like to say “no.” I have often remarked that the stories of the saints which have had the most impact are those that show the saint not as an angelic being in human skin but as a real person subject to the same temptations and hardships that we all go through. The Gospel is full of people who said “yes” to Christ but were shown with warts and all: Saints Peter, Thomas, and John, just to name a few.
Right before Christmas, it is easier to say “yes” to helping others, as we often are caught up in the Christmas spirit. The trick is to keep the Christmas spirit the whole year through, as the saints in heaven did and the still-living saints do, as George Bailey did, and as Christ will do throughout his ministry. On Good Friday we will celebrate the “yes” that Saint Paul, in the second reading with his beautiful doxology, tells us brings the great obedience of faith brought to all the nations [Romans 16:26]. In just five days we'll celebrate the beginning of the life that was that “yes.” As we complete our Advent observance, let us all prepare our hearts to receive God's great love and to radiate it back outward to both God and those around us. As we continue the Mass, let our “amen,” our “yes” to the Eucharist be a commitment to living out the Christmas spirit all year long. Let the joy of Christmas be the model for being joyful disciples.