This morning we celebrate what is our country’s patronal feast day: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. What we celebrate is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived without any stain of original sin so that she could be found worthy to be the Mother of God.
Our readings for this great feast include both those “theological concepts” of the Immaculate Conception: the “concept” of original sin itself and God’s solution to that problem: the coming of Christ, our Savior, through the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The opening chapters of Genesis tell the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve, who had eaten from the tree of which God had forbidden them to eat. It was that act of disobedience that brought original sin into the world we live in, and along with it, all of the sin, the pain, the suffering and the brokenness that we all experience on a daily basis. It is, quite simply, The Problem that has plagued us from the dawn of creation.
But in our gospel today we hear also of the solution to that problem: How God was to send a Savior to redeem us, Jesus Christ His Son, through the Blessed Virgin Mary. In place of the disobedience of Eve, Mary freely gives herself wholeheartedly to the work and the will of God.
That act of obedience opened the way for our Redeemer and for our salvation. As St. Irenaeus of Lyon has said so eloquently: And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith (Adversus Haereses, Book III, Chapter 22).
This feast we celebrate today gives us tremendous hope, because we discover how much God wants each of us to be a part of what He is doing to loose that knot of disobedience. Through Mary’s obedience, Christ came into this world to save us from our sins; He still comes to us today, whenever we freely give ourselves to Him, like Mary.
There is a beautiful story that was re-told in the Christian periodical "First Things" last January. It is a parable or fairy tale of sorts, written by the French authors Jerome Tharaud and Jean Tharaud.
The story takes place on the night that Christ is born in Bethlehem. The shepherds and wise men have all come and gone, and suddenly an old woman appears in the doorway, dressed in rags. Mary is alarmed at the appearance of this haggard visitor, who is bent over as if weighed down by an impossible load. She makes her way toward the manger, each step seeming to take centuries to complete.
Mary is surprised to see that none of the animals are even slightly agitated by this uninvited guest. It is as if they knew she was coming all along. Suddenly, as she reaches the crib, she bends down towards the child, slowly producing something from beneath her filthy rags. Mary wonders what this new gift might be. The old woman smiles knowingly at Mary as she departs; no longer bent over, her head now held high. The authors continue:
Finally Mary could see the mysterious present. An apple, a little apple, having within it all the sin of the world, given to the baby Jesus by Eve, for it was her, the old woman, who had come to worship the Child born of her blood, who would save her from her sins. The apple of the original sin, and the sin of so many who would follow her.
On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, what are the sins that God is challenging us to offer back up to Him, acknowledging His forgiveness and mercy? As we set up nativity scenes in our own homes and Church this season and remember that Child in the manger, born of Mary, what is the apple that God is asking us to give back? This Advent season, as we prepare more completely for the coming of Jesus Christ, may we also see the knot of disobedience loosened in our own lives, and in the world we live in, by the forgiveness of Christ and our obedience and love for God and those around us.