Mary’s Fiat: All beginnings start with a yes
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done with me according to your word.—Luke 1:38
I wish I could always muster a classy yes like Mary’s. “Let it be done with me according to your word” is a far cry from my usual “OK, if you say so.” We do the best we can.
Mary’s fiat, as it is called (fiat being not a cute little car but Latin for “let it be done”), was a yes to the Unknown. These are the only yeses that really count.
Consider your average New Year’s resolution—lose twenty pounds, walk every day, write more thank-you notes, clean out that closet. These aren’t yeses to the Unknown. Most resolutions are really just a way of maintaining the status quo, only more comfortably.
A yes to the Unknown—this was the fiat of Mary as she accepted the impossible message of the angel. This was the yes of those Wise Men following the star to only God knows where. This was the yes of Jesus as he accepted baptism by his cousin John.
I remember my own baptism. It was somewhat irregular. At twenty-one years old, I had come under the influence of an energetic Jesuit priest who, two weeks after we met, invited me to become a Catholic. Part of the preparation of those to be baptized is to instruct them on the ritual response to certain questions. My priest forgot that instruction, and so when he asked me, “What do you ask of God’s Church?” I replied firmly, “Answers.”
(Wrong!) Jesuits are quick on their feet, and so he recovered with, “When there are no answers, will you accept faith?” (OK, if you say so.)
A few months ago we celebrated the baptism of my third grandchild. His parents, my middle son and daughter-in-law, stood in front of the congregation jiggling the baby while trying to keep their four-year-old from having a melt-down and their two-year-old from diving into the blessed water. They had that deer-in-the-headlights look of all young, nervous, sleep-deprived parents.
They were asked a ritual question, and they knew the right answer. First the priest says, “You have asked to have your child baptized….” Then comes the kicker: “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” And my kids nodded their distracted assent. Just once I’d like to hear a parent respond, “Are you out of your mind? Of course we don’t know what we are undertaking! In fifteen year this little sweetheart will be an opinionated, sweaty, hormonal teenager who mumbles and sighs and shrugs and treats me like an idiot.”
In baptism and marriage and parenthood and most of life, we say yes to the Unknown. Mary’s yes to her beautiful baby boy was also a yes to the cross, and so it is with all such yeses.
In January our nation celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Christians observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which ends on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. We remember Roe v. Wade, and thousands will again march in Washington to demonstrate their commitment to life.
Yes to civil rights, to Christian unity, to life—who knows where these yeses will lead? We don’t know, just like the Wise Men didn’t know that their star would lead them to a stable in Bethlehem. Or like Saul, the Pharisee, didn’t know on the road to Damascus that his new name would be Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Or like a new mother holding her precious baby doesn’t know what pain may someday lodge in her heart. There will be a cross. But the cross is never the end. This is our faith. With that faith, maybe we can say, Yes! Welcome, 2008. Let it be done in our world according to your word.