There is a story of General Stonewall Jackson and his sister crossing a treacherous torrent just below the mighty Niagara Falls. It is said that when the violent current began to rock their boat, his sister became terrified, at which point the Confederate general took her by the arm, turned to one of the two boatmen, and asked: “How often have you crossed here before?” The boatman replied: “Continually, sir, for the past twelve years.” The General then asked him if he had ever met with an accident. He replied: “Never, sir; nothing of the kind, sir.” And with that, the General turned to his sister and said: “You heard what the boatman said. Unless you think you can row better than he does; just sit still and trust him as I do.” (Adapted from: The Speaker’s Quote Book, Roy B. Zuck)
Now within this short story, there are three elements that may help us unearth some important truths regarding the way we should live as Christians.
The first element rests in our desire to maintain the status quo in our lives. By doing so, our problems certainly seem to go away; however, if we don’t get on the boat, we pretty much guarantee that we won’t be crossing the river before us—or any other river, for that matter. Hence, given that we are to always remain open to the possibilities God sets out for us, this is certainly not a valid option.
The second element rests in our fear of the unknown. Upon journeying onto the boat and pushing out into the river, we are fearful and ask ourselves: What will happen if we capsize? Regarding fear, this is a human emotion that we are all subject to. Yet, in the end, it is an emotion that should never “rule our lives.”
The third and final element involves our willingness to trust God and say ‘yes’ to His Divine Plan for our lives. Simply stated, as we approach the many rivers of our lives, are we willing to allow God to be—God? Are we willing to place our worries, concerns, hopes, and dreams into His hands—and trust Him? On those occasions when we have done just that, it is though we’ve held onto God’s arm as He has led us on a journey that is unique and different than any other person’s journey throughout the history of the world. How awesome is this, don’t you think?
During these Sundays of Advent, our Gospels have been pointed—and instructive. On the First Sunday (Mark 13:33-37), Jesus warned us to be watchful and alert, for we know not when the Lord of the house is coming. In a sense, it was a “call to arms,” a warning shot that we should set our proverbial houses in order. And then, on the Second (Mark 1:1-8) and Third (John 1:6-8, 19-28) Sundays, it is as though we were careful spectators, taking in that which was unfolding before us. Specifically, we were told about the person of John the Baptist, his role in Salvation history, and that his mission was that of pointing out the One to come.
On the Final Sunday (Luke 1:26-38) of Advent, before making our final turn toward Bethlehem and the Holy Crib, we encounter Jesus’ mother, who is also our mother. Her words tell us about her humble heart and willingness to submit to God’s Divine will for her life.
Mary’s ‘yes’ shows us the possibilities for our lives when our hearts are filled with a pure love for God. Mary’s ‘yes’ shows us what it means to be selfless—and holy! Mary’s ‘yes’ shows us how we, too, can harness our fears and place them within the hands of God. By doing so, we can move away from whatever status quo we may be occupying in the here-and-now.
As Christmas draws near, each of us will arrive at the manger scene. Upon our arrival, will we be unchanged? Or, with God’s help, will we stand before the Infant Jesus having changed those things in our lives that require change?