Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary — December 8, 2014
It is very appropriate that we celebrate this Feast of the Immaculate Conception as we do during the Season of Advent, when we are preparing to celebrate Christmas, because this Feast invites us all to stop for just a moment, so that we can reflect on how God prepared the world for the coming of the Savior in the birth of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. It is precisely in the midst of all of our practical preparations for Christmas that the Church invites us to try to slow down in order to prepare ourselves spiritually for our celebration of Christmas.
During this Advent Season, as we refer to these three weeks before
Christmas, we identify with the chosen People of Israel who waited so long and who did what they could to prepare for the first Christmas, when Mary of Nazareth gave birth to her son, Jesus Christ. And today, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we thank God for the essential role that Mary played in bringing Jesus Christ into the world, even though it seems that at that time, Mary had no idea how it was possible, or what it really meant, that she was to become the Mother of God. As we do, we turn to the Scriptures and listen to the familiar account of the Annunciation as told by St. Luke.
Reflecting on this special feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would like to suggest three ways in which the Scriptures help us to prepare to celebrate Christmas again this year. I invite you to join me in thinking and praying about the message of today’s Scripture readings, and in doing so to hear them as a call for us to become more responsible, more open and cooperative, and more patient in our relationships with God and with
First: The Scriptures are a call for us to be more responsible in our relationships with God and with one another. That first reading from the Old Testament Book of Genesis picks up the story of Adam and Eve, immediately after they had eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. And Adam and Eve both respond to the Lord God’s question about what had just happened by trying to place the blame on someone else. Adam seems to think that even God somehow is to blame: “The woman whom you put here, she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it. And Eve quickly passes on the blame too, by saying: “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”
Adam and Eve both had a very difficult time accepting personal responsibility for their decision to go against the one prohibition that God had given them. And it really wasn’t their fault, they thought! And I suspect that all of us have been tempted, at one time or another, to use the old Adam-and-Eve defense which was made famous some years ago by the comedian Flip Wilson who said: “The Devil Made Me Do It!”
The Scriptures today remind us that from the very beginning of creation, we human beings have always been free to choose to do what is right or what is wrong. And if ever we choose to do what is wrong, we should be willing to assume responsibility for our wrong choices. We should not be looking around for someone or something else to blame for our own mistakes. So that’s my first point: The Scriptures are calling us to be more responsible in our relationships with God and with one another.
Next: The Scriptures are a call for us to be more open and cooperative in our relationships with God and with one another. In today’s Gospel reading, the angel Gabriel, a very unusual spiritual being, mysteriously appears to a young woman, Mary of Nazareth, who is at first terrified and confused by the experience. Mary’s terror and confusion are well-founded! And even after the angel assures her that she has found favor with God, and that she need not be afraid, Mary still doesn’t seem to understand what is happening, and just what she is being asked to do. So she asks how all this could be possible, the angel tells her about the Holy Spirit, about the power of the Most High overshadowing her, and about Elizabeth’s expecting a child in her old age. And then, Gabriel’s final words to her: “For nothing will be impossible for God.” In response, Mary expresses her openness to God’s mysterious plan and her willingness to cooperate with that plan in any way she can be saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
This Gospel scene highlights for us the essential role that Mary was willing to play in God’s plan for our salvation. It also highlights for us the openness and cooperation which each of us should bring to our relationships with God and with one another. God continues to invite us to work together to accomplish tasks which might seem at first to be impossible. Whether working together to bring about world peace, to end pollution, or to find a cure for AIDS, cancer, and the common cold, we should never forget: “Nothing will be impossible for God.” But God always wants to invite our human cooperation in order to achieve what we might think at first is quite impossible!
Finally: The Scriptures are a call for us to be more patient in our relationships with God and with one another. If we bring those qualities of openness and cooperation into our relationships with God and with one another, we just might be able to do the impossible, but we will rarely, if ever, experience immediately successful results! So we all need to be patient!
Patience is a virtue that we seem to have little time for. We are always in such a hurry to get things done. And we can get so very annoyed and frustrated when we have to wait for things. Waiting in traffic, at the ATM machine, at the post office, or at the grocery store, we can become so impatient! Fast food restaurants are never quite fast enough for us. We want everything right now. So grocery stores are full of instant everything, from instant-soup and salad to instant-coffee and espresso. Yet, somehow, deep down, we realize that everything that is really important in life does take time and is worth waiting for. Like getting a good education and preparing for a career, or learning to play a new sport or musical instrument, or developing a deep interpersonal relationship. All of these things take a lot of time and effort. And when in every other area of our lives there is no time or place for patience, these valuable long-term projects can suffer. Just like our faith and our spiritual lives can suffer if we are not patient with ourselves and with God.
Listening to what St. Paul tells the Ephesians about being chosen by God “…before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him,” we can become annoyed and frustrated when we realize that we are not yet as holy and without blemish as we know we should be and wish we were. So we have to be patient: patient with ourselves, with one another, and with the Lord. And still we tend to pray: “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now, quickly, because I can’t wait any longer to become patient!”
As we take this brief “time out” for prayer and reflection, celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I hope and pray that we will all begin to feel the presence and the power of the Lord Jesus in our lives, helping us to be more responsible, more open and cooperative, and more patient in our relationships with God and with one another.