John Lennon was murdered twenty years ago this month. I am reminded of a radio interview I heard in the wake of that tragedy in which Lennon recalled how he met Yoko Ono. He had been invited by friend to a conceptual-art show. He found one piece of the exhibit particularly intriguing. It was a step ladder that led to a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling. Lennon climbed the ladder. He looked through the magnifying glass at a placard taped to the ceiling which had one tiny word on it – yes. Moved by this small declaration of hope, Lennon found the artist – Yoko Ono – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Tomorrow’s gospel begins to move our attention from anticipation of Advent season to the celebration of the actual advent of Jesus who is also Emmanuel, God with us. Like that hopeful word that so moved John Lennon, the word God spoke in speaking the Word into the quiet of Mary’s womb, into the insignificant manger in little Bethlehem, and hence into the world, was God’s “Yes” to humanity. The Incarnation affirms the fundamental goodness of being human with all our vulnerability and awkwardness. There is no aspect of authentic human experience, however mundane, that is not blessed and honored by the divine enfleshment. At the heart of it all is not silence or indifference, but an exultant and relentless Yes. God has created us to hear that yes and in the Incarnation declared us unequivocally worthy of his attention and fellowship.
To be sure, from our earliest days, humans have responded by ignoring or rejecting God's Yes and preferring to speak our own yes to ourselves for ourselves. But we are unable to speak yes on our own and our self-referential yes invariable fragments into myriad no's resulting in the incoherence of sin. To the obstinate “no” of human violence, selfishness, pride, and greed – of all that refuses God’s Yes – we hear a terrifying and resolute “No!” Our “no” and God’s “No!” finally meet in Jesus on the cross. The human no is answered by God’s No! and, in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning, God’s fundamental Yes to humanity (indeed, to all creation) is reasserted.
In the end, we will only be able to hear God’s Yes if we are first willing to hear the No! to all that in us contradicts that Yes. That is the way of repentance of which we have already heard in Advent. Faith is our yes in response to God’s Yes proclaimed in Jesus Christ. As the 20th century Swedish theologian, Gustaf Aulen, wrote, “In spite of timidity, faith is the soul’s audacious yes to God” (The Faith of the Christian Church, p. 29).
There are but two commandments:
1. You shall say, “Yes” to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
2. You shall speak “Yes” to your neighbor as you yourself have heard “Yes” spoken to you.
May we prepare to hear again God’s Yes spoken in Jesus, God with us, come to save his people from their sins. "For in him every one of God's promises is a "Yes." For this reason it is through him that we say the "Amen," to the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 1:20).