Today, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, mother of Jesus, which celebrates the dogmatic belief that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to be our Savior, and gave to him a human mother who was chosen before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight. This feast is a sign for us of the nearness of our salvation, that the plan God had for us before the world ever took shape was finally coming to fruition.
The first reading paints the picture for us. The man had eaten of the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat. Because of this, they were ashamed and covered over their nakedness. God noticed that, and asked about it. He found they had discovered the forbidden tree because otherwise they would not have the idea that their natural state was shameful. Sin had entered the world, and God wanted to know who gave the man the forbidden fruit.
This leads to the first instance of passing the buck, as the man blames not just the woman, but also God, for the situation: “The woman whom you put here with me
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” In other words, if God hadn’t put the woman there with him in the first place, he never would have received the fruit to eat. The woman, too, blames someone else: the serpent. As if neither of them had been created with a brain to think for themselves, they begin that blame game that we all participate in from time to time.
But at its core, this is a pattern we will see all throughout Scripture: God gives a road to salvation, human beings turn away, and so on and so on and so on. And we still do it today, don’t we? We have the Scriptures to show us the way, but we don’t take time to read and reflect on them. We have the Church to lead us in the right way, but we choose to do whatever we think is right. We have the Sacraments to fill us with grace, but some hardly ever partake of them. As the Psalmist says, “The LORD has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.” How will we respond to that grace? God is always pouring out his generous gifts, and we so often reject them and in doing so, reject the Divine Giver.
This cyclic state of sin and rejection was never intended to be the case. We are not defined as a people by our sins. We cannot mess up and say, “hey, I’m only human,” because being perfectly human does not include sin. The perfectly human one – Jesus Christ – came to show us the way out of the cycle of sin and rejection. This grace was always intended. As St. Paul says to the Ephesians today: “He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…”
And so, in these Advent days, we await the unfolding of the plan for salvation that began at the very dawn of the world in all its wonder. God always intended to provide an incredible way for his people to return to them, and that was by taking flesh and walking among us as a man. He began this by preparing for his birth through the Immaculate Virgin Mary – never stained by sin, because the one who conquered sin and death had already delivered her from sin. He was then ready to be born into our midst and to take on our form. With Mary’s fiat in today’s Gospel, God enters our world in the most intimate way possible, by becoming one of us. Mary’s lived faith – possible because of her Immaculate Conception – makes possible our own lives of faith and our journeys to God. There’s a wonderful Marian prayer that we pray at the conclusion of Night Prayer during Advent that sums it all up so beautifully:
Loving Mother of the Redeemer,
Gate of heaven, star of the sea,
Assist your people
who have fallen yet strive to rise again.
To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,
yet remained a virgin after as before.
You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting,
have pity on us, poor sinners.
Our celebration today has special meaning for us. Because Mary was conceived without sin, we can see that sin was never intended to rule us. We can see that sin is not what defines us as human beings. So God selected Mary from the beginning and gave her a taste in salvific grace so that we could all see the light of what is to come for all of us one day.
I love the hymn “Immaculate Mary.” Sr. Merita taught it to us in fourth grade when I was in CCD class. What better way to turn away from sin and look with faithfulness on our God than with this hymn. So let us together ask her to pray for us by singing together the refrain one more time:
“Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!”