Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
St Joseph’s Church, Rochester
8th December, 2018
Gen 3:9-20; Ps 98:1-4; Eph 1:3-12; Luke 1:26-38
How great is the mystery of the Immaculate Conception that the Liturgy presents to us today! A mystery that never ceases to invite the contemplation of believers and inspires the reflection of theologians.
The Immaculate Conception means that Mary from the first moment of her existence was totally free from the influence of that universal sinfulness which touches us all from the time we are born. The reason behind this belief (which is not explicitly contained in Scripture and was only infallibly defined in 1854) is that only a totally sinless environment was fitting for the Son of God in his becoming a human being. It has a very long history in the Church.
The book of Genesis reminds us that, when God created humanity, He created humanity free from sin. The Bible story will tell us that the first man and the first woman, created in the image and likeness of God, were created free from sin. The great tragedy and the great mystery of the origins of the human race, lost as they are in the mists of time, is that, with that untainted freedom, humanity, at the very beginnings of our history, turned away from God and distanced itself from God, creating a barrier between ourselves and God.
Ever since, including now, we all struggle with this reality in our own personal lives and in the lives of our communities. The first human beings, in full freedom, rejected God. However, God never rejected us. Moreover, as the scriptures say, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Lord, to redeem the subjects of the Lord.
The First Reading reminds us that it was a woman who was instrumental in bringing pain and suffering, the result of sin, to the whole world. It will also be a woman who will be instrumental in bringing to the world its salvation and healing.
The Second Reading tells us that all of us have been called by God to share his love and blessings long before we even existed. This is even more true of Mary, who was singled out from eternity by God to be the Mother of his Son. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us of the holiness to which we are called. The whole purpose of our lives is to live and to exist for the praise and the glory of God. The way that we can do that best is through our intimacy with Mary and with Jesus. Mary shows us, through her obedience, through her trust in God, how to be holy. She is fully human. She is what God wants for every human person. His deepest desire is that we respond to His call.
Then we have the Gospel which speaks, not of Mary’s conception, but that of Jesus. It begins the moment Mary says that ‘Yes’. The angel greets her as “full of grace”, filled with God’s love and God’s favour, and specially singled out for this moment. This has always been interpreted as indicating Mary’s total freedom from any taint of sin. As “Ark of the Covenant” it was felt that the Incarnate Word should begin his human existence in an environment untouched by sin.
St Luke tells us the story of how God’s plan unfolds and impacts on the lives of Mary and Joseph. In the story of the Annunciation, Mary was disturbed by the words of the angel that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. In spite of the mystery and uncertainty, Mary gave that faith-filled response “I am the handmaid of the Lord and let it be done unto me according to your word”.
How difficult it is for us to accept God’s plan for us that can come through unexpected circumstances. We need a faith and trust of Mary to surrender ourselves to God. We need to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and it is our faith-filled response to life’s many unwelcome changes that enables us to follow the ways of God.
Let us be deeply aware that, long before we were born, every single one of us has been called by God to know, love and serve him. We have been the constant recipients of his blessings. How will we respond? Unlike Mary, we were born touched by a sinful world. However, we also can become filled with grace if, like her, we say a resounding and unconditional ‘Yes’ to all that God wants from us.
We can apply each of today’s readings to our own lives. If we have been often the cause of sin and pain in other people’s lives. Let us rather be people who bring wholeness and healing.
We make a grave mistake in our spiritual lives if she has no part. Christ Himself gave Mary to us at the foot of the cross. "Behold your mother." Those words were not just spoken to John at that moment in history. Those words are spoken to the Church. Those words are spoken to each and every baptized Christian, "Behold your mother."
Let us, then, allow her to accompany us. She can help us to prepare ourselves to recognise, in the child of Bethlehem, the Son of God who comes into our world for our sakes. Let us walk with her in prayer and accept the repeated invitation of Advent that we remain alert and watchful with joyful expectation, for the coming of the Lord. He is the one who will set his people free from sin. As we continue with our celebration today, I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to have true devotion to Mary.
As we give thanks to God today for the special grace of the Immaculate Conception , let us simply ask Mary today to help us to love Jesus as she did.