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Jill RiceDecember 08, 2023
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Pucallpa, Peru. Photo by Eduardo Flores, courtesy of Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
(Lk 1:26-27)

My grade school (which I’ve mentioned in previous Scripture reflections) had an Advent/Christmas concert of sorts called the Service of Lights. It began with one student singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” in the pitch darkness, and then slowly a few candles were lit. We had the classic hymns, like “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night”; but also unknown ones like “A Mother’s Lullaby,” which I can only find in its original Polish version, with English lyrics here; and “When Blossoms Flowered ’mid the Snows.” It ended with all the candelabras glowing brightly as we all sang a celebratory “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” But throughout the night, girls would read passages from the Nativity narrative, including today’s Gospel reading.

It is the perfect Advent Gospel, and today’s feast is Mary-centric, just like the reading, in which the angel Gabriel appears to Mary. She awaits the coming of her son, who has been sent from God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and is the Son of the Most High—a high calling for the son of a random woman from Nazareth!

Mary’s preparation, and our preparation for the coming of the Lord, were, and are, necessary.

But, as we know, this woman is no random girl. She was chosen as the New Eve, the woman who would bear the savior of the world. And today we celebrate the feast that made her so: the Immaculate Conception. Contrary to what today’s annunciation reading might suggest, the one who was immaculately conceived is Mary, meaning that she was born without original sin. Thus she is the new Ark of the Covenant, the pure vessel in which the Lord will reside.

She was created to be the mother of God before she was born, but Mary still had free will and could have given into her fear, saying no to the angel’s declaration. But she, born without sin, prepared her heart for the Lord to come, most especially in the time leading up to her son’s birth.

Back in grade school, we would spend a few days a week in November and December practicing for the Service of Lights. It was fun when we were allowed to skip math class and got to sing in the chapel instead—the hymns were ever-present in my mind; I would quiz myself on the lyrics so that I could have them memorized. The practice times were necessary (five grades’ worth of girls sing together differently than as singular classes!), and they also got us ready for the ceremony.

Mary’s preparation, and our preparation for the coming of the Lord, were, and are, necessary. Advent, when we prepare for the arrival of the baby Jesus, is a time of joy and celebration, but also one of serious work. We should rejoice, but that is the opposite of slacking off; we must instead prepare for the changes that Jesus can bring to our lives, hopefully just as profoundly as he did in his mother’s life.

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