December 23: “No” and “Yes”

I have never paid much attention to December 23, except as a way through to what really mattered, namely Christmas (in my culture of origin, Christmas Eve is the emotional high-point of Christmas, when the family gathers, the Christmas tree candles – yes, real ones! — are lit, and presents are exchanged, all followed by a festive meal and midnight mass).

This year, however, the reading from the Gospel according to Luke for December 23 really caught my attention.  I have long thought that Elizabeth’s astounding “no” (Lk 1:60), spoken resolutely in the face of traditional expectations and conventions, was one of the most important words spoken by a woman in the biblical record (and given that women’s voices are gravely underrepresented, every word counts).  In the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, Elizabeth’s “no” is woven together with Mary’s “yes” – and the juxtaposition becomes especially telling so shortly before Christmas.  The two women stand at the beginning of something new in this Gospel: the Old Testament “God of the Fathers” prepares to enter the world in Jesus of Nazareth and does so as a God of two mothers, miraculously pregnant with hope beyond all telling.

I wonder whether Elizabeth and Mary together don’t point us to a deep truth: namely, that fully saying “yes” to something – especially God’s own vision for this world — always also has to include decisive “nos.”  And I wonder what the “nos” in each of our lives are that need to be spoken, if we want to be ready to celebrate God’s ultimate “yes” to the world, which we will encounter again this Christmas.


  1. I’m grateful for this insightful post, Teresa. Your reflection immediately brings to mind what became the fundamental concept in Edward Schillebeeckx’s theology: “the experience of radical contrast in human history.” In the 1970s he articulated how mystical (liturgical, prayerful, biblically inspired) practices of faith reveal God’s “yes” to all that augments human/created life and dignity, such that the believer reacts with a “no” to ethical and socio-political circumstances that contradict or repress that divine favor toward humanity. Schillebeeckx’s conceptualization has become bedrock to my pastoral work, preaching, and academic teaching and writing. In the opening pages of his last full-length book, Church: The Human Story of God, Schillebeeckx poses the radical experience of contrast as the basis for all that follows: “The fundamental human ‘no’ to evil therefore discloses an unfulfilled and thus ‘open yes’ which is as intractable as the human ‘no,’ indeed, even stronger, because the ‘open yes’ is the basis of that opposition and makes it possible” (p. 6 in the revised English edition, Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014).

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