KAMPALA, UGANDA ✦ We know little about them, these grandparents—if they came to babysit on Friday nights or if they maybe played checkers with the curly-haired, laughing boy while he grew in wisdom and stature.
But it is that time of year for unusual questions, when strange stars and angels appear, when the word, even for a moment, becomes Yes.
“Yes, here I am. May it be done to me as you will,” is what Mary said. And she had to get it from somewhere.
Now she may have been the sort of girl who would have been a saint anyway, that type simply destined for it all. But maybe there’s more to the story, as there often is when earth and heaven meet, so we can’t really tell where one begins and the other ends.
Tradition tells us Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, a long-time barren couple, later dedicated their miracle child, Mary, to service in the temple. There she was apparently educated before, at 14, she married the much older Joseph.
Some believers are told not to think much about this: texts outside the accepted canon, or anything diminishing Jesus’ grand entrance which, with today’s airbrushed images, we get largely wrong anyway.
But whatever we do or don’t know about this family, it seems to me that if Mary was taught one thing, which she later got through to her unusual son, it was this divine Yes. Yes, you can do it. Yes, don’t worry what anyone thinks. Yes, trust and obey. Yes, hold on tight.
This, at the end of this 2012th Year of our Lord; a year when certain girls said yes: from 16-year-old Ye Shiwen who swam into Olympic record books, to 14-year-old Annaleise Carr who swam Lake Ontario, to 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai who swam in a pool of blood after she had the pluck to say yes to girls’ education.
The story of Malala, the Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for her public insistence that girls have the right to schooling, has been especially moving in both the developing world and rich world.
And as I watched the news of her father smile and cry and give thanks at her bedside, I couldn’t help but wonder of his own influence: maybe the regrets all parents have, but also the backlash, and how darkness is often pushed back after an attack on an innocent.
In this case the darkness is revealed in a recent global report that shows one in four girls—75 million Marys, so-to-speak—are not in school. I’m reminded even my own daughter, Hannah, a gregarious Ugandan we’ve adopted, could have easily had a different life, up with the sun to fetch wood and water and help in other ways more akin to ancient times.
The point is not just about math and spelling, but giving all girls a shot at a life with some amount of inspiration and aspiration and dignity and capacity to hear that Yes.
Canadian school girls think of other things often seen as more frivolous. Yet their world is no less real and they are no less in need of that divine word.
This is the holy season’s message. God is our parent, our Emmanuel, with us, beside us, whispering in our ear—Yes, Yes, Yes. We too are parents, or parents-to-be, or something else no less important, divinely placed in one sort of family or another, influencing this child or that one.
Christmas asks, what kind of influence is it?