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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today I’m going to deviate a bit from my usual sermon style, and talk about two fictional characters. The first one comes from the old comic strip in the newspapers called Li’l Abner, and the second one comes from the animated film Yellow Submarine. Now I realize that these two figures that I’ll examine are unknown to most of you. That’s OK. It’s just maybe a bit more fun if you know who they are.
The first character from the satirical Li’l Abner comic strip is named Joe Btfsplk. First I’ll spell it. Now, I’ll pronounce it (raspberry; Bronx cheer!). Joe was always well-meaning, but he was the world’s worst jinx, bringing disastrous misfortune to everyone around him. A small, dark rain cloud perpetually hovered over his head to symbolize his bad luck. Hapless Btfsplk and his ever-present cloud became one of the most iconic images in Li’l Abner.
One storyline in the early 1970s features him trapping his cloud in a special anti-pollution jar so that Joe can become romantically involved with a woman for the first time in his life—until her crazed ex-boyfriend shows up to kill him. Joe reluctantly opens the jar and releases his cloud in order to take care of the boyfriend, which of course means it also takes care of him. The dark storm cloud returns to its place above his head, and he wistfully realizes that he wasn’t meant for any other kind of life. As he returns to his previous, loner existence, his cloud once again in tow, he is, for the moment, resigned to be who he thinks he really is. Al Capp, the creator of the Li’l Abner series, has created a tragic character in Joe. His life is negative, his world is negative, his relationships are negative, his self-image is negative. Joe’s existence is even worse than Sisyphus because he can’t even get the stone rolling at all. This image fits in very well with our understanding of humankind. If left to ourselves, the dark cloud of the “fall,” the reign of the darker inclinations of our souls, the lusts of the flesh and the lust for power, not only left us without hope, but also a sad resignation to the idea that this is how it would always be.
Now I want to examine another character, this time from the film The Yellow Submarine. His name is Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D. He’s a hyper-brilliant, highly educated, koala shaped fur ball with a blue clown’s face. He describes himself as an "eminent physicist, polyglot classicist, prize-winning botanist, hard-biting satirist, talented pianist, good dentist too." In spite of his intellectual and artistic prowess, he is depicted a rather lonely and isolated character in the early part of the film. The Beatles, who are the heroes of the film, recognize his plight and sing the song “Nowhere Man.” But in the end, the positivity of the band, and their loving concern for Jeremy, change him completely, and he follows the band as they go off on their adventure to save Pepperland from the clutches of the Blue Meanies.
For Joe Btfsplk everything was negative, everything was about “no.” For Jeremy Hillary Boob PhD, the “no” turned around and became a “yes!” Listen to what Jeremy himself says in the movie:
“Yes! Ah, ‘yes’ is a word with a glorious ring!
A true universal, euphonious thing!
Engenders embracing and chasing of blues!
The very best word for the whole world to use!”
If the Feast of the Annunciation is about anything, it certainly is about the power of “yes.” When the world and the human race first fell into calamity, it was due to the fact that Adam and Eve said “no” to God. That’s when they declared that they knew better who and what they were meant to be. That’s when the first dark and rainy cloud came to sit over the heads of the whole human race. That’s when our names became unpronounceable and distorted, a cause for ridicule, because we had become twisted, distorted, and ridiculous  ourselves. But Mary does not leave us in that condition. She un-does the “no” of Adam and Eve by her “yes” to the Archangel Gabriel. This is why the Church calls her the “New Eve” because without her consent and faithful agreement, there would be no Mystery of the Incarnation as we know it. Only after she said “yes” did the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos, condescend to take our human nature from her and reveal Himself as our Lord Jesus Christ, taking our humanity and uniting it with His Divinity in an ineffable mystery. God in His free will desired to become man and the Holy Virgin Mary, in her free will, desired to give herself to Him and bear Him, which is why she is called Theotokos or “bearer of God.”
What, exactly, did she say “yes” to? Clearly, she said yes to the Incarnation of the Son of God in her womb, but there’s more to it than that. She said “yes” to pregnancy, even though she was a virgin, and even though she would have to endure the shame of society, including the doubts of her own betrothed, St. Joseph, who was troubled at first.  She said “yes” to raising a Child Who was was destined for suffering, persecution, and the Cross from the first moments of His life. She said “yes” to raising Him as Her only source of support, knowing that she would eventually have to give Him up for the salvation of the world. In short, she said “yes” to giving up everything that a girl her age normally desired in life, things like basic comfort and support, in favor of living a life that was wholly consecrated to God in the most intimate way.
Not only did she say “yes” to God, for her own sake, but the Holy Virgin Mary said “yes” to God on behalf of the entire human race. Last night, in the 9th Ode of the Canon, we heard how Daniel prophetically refers to the Mother of God as the “gate of the king.”  By saying “yes” to God on behalf of mankind, she became the gate by which Christ entered and enlightened our world.  As St. Ambrose of Milan said,
“What is that gate of the sanctuary, that outer gate facing the East and remaining closed: ‘And no man,’ it says, ‘shall pass through it except the God of Israel’? Is not Mary the gate through whom the Redeemer entered this world?…The Most-Holy Virgin is that gate of which it is written: ‘The Lord will pass through it, and it will remain shut,’ after birth, for as a virgin she conceived and gave birth. Because she said “yes,” God dwelt among us, taught us, healed us, suffered for us, died for us, and was raised from the dead for us. Because she said “yes” the dark cloud is removed, loneliness is abolished, and joy bursts forth. It is no wonder, then, why we magnify her as we do, why we enthrone her icons in our churches and in our homes, why we sing praises to her, and why we take her as our own mother. Isn’t it obvious? “She said yes!”


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