(Editor's note: The Deseret News originally published the following column, published by the New York Times Syndicate, in 1999.)
"Hail Mary, full of grace: The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women."
These words, second nature to Catholics, always seem foreign to me. Growing up Methodist, I rarely heard anything of the Virgin Mary. Except, of course, at Christmas.
As a child, I eagerly awaited unpacking the creche. Year after year, I reverently woke Mary from her attic slumber, unwrapping her from yellowed newspaper. Oddly comforting, she never changed. Her blue robes flowed around her, arms crossed gently on her breast, and eyes cast downward watching her baby son in wonder. She embodied motherly love.
However, as I grew up, my childhood affection for Mary waned. Her example of submissive motherhood offered little inspiration to a baby boomer career woman. As feminist theologian Mary Daly put it, "The myth of the Incarnation logically implied the usurpation of female power."
In recent years, however, Mary's story has impressed me anew.
Two thousand years ago, an angel visited a young girl anxiously awaiting her own marriage. "Fear not, Mary," the angel said, "for you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus."
Astounded, Mary asked, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
The angel replied, "God's spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you."
Then the heavens waited.
Would she agree?
Although we don't often consider the possibility, Mary could have said no. If I had been she, I would have. God's favor? Pregnant out of wedlock? What of Joseph? What about the wedding? What would my parents say? No, thank you.
God asked her to give up love, honor, happiness and reputation. To accomplish God's will, she would become a social outcast.
The heavens waited. History hung on the word of a teenage girl.
"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Yes! Yes! Yes! The word reverberated throughout the universe. Angels rejoiced. Because of one girl's yes, God's son would be born.
Mary responded not in fear but in love. "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" Not a submissive woman, she risked everything with an extraordinary yes.
Mary's yes — giving birth to Jesus — transformed the world. What if she had said no?
No is a powerful word. Filled with deadening power, no kills love, creativity and possibilities. Mary's no would have denied the world Jesus.
Yes opens doors. Yes breathes life into impossible dreams. Yes hopes when hope is not seen. Yes embodies courage.
Visionaries hear and speak yes when common sense says no. Martin Luther King's yes to racial equality. Desmond Tutu's yes to a democratic South Africa. Yitzhak Rabin's yes to Mideast peace.
The great theologian Karl Barth believed that "no" is sin. Human beings say no to God and no to one another. In spite of our no, Barth insisted that God said yes to us. Entering into human history, God overcame every no with the resounding yes of a baby born into the world.
When the baby grew to a man, he said yes, too. Saying yes to God, Jesus submitted to humiliation, pain and death — all for the love of his brothers and sisters.
If not for Mary's yes, God's yes would have been silenced. No wonder generations have blessed her.
This holiday season, I suggest we change "just say no" to "just say yes." When we say yes to God, yes to love, and yes to each other, healing and reconciliation come.
The Christmas story proclaims God's yes: Love and peace are born into the world. Truly, good news of great joy for all people!
Diana Butler is an author, speaker and independent scholar on religious issues.