NOTE: Throughout the Advent season, we’ll post a reflection on the readings for the upcoming Sunday in Advent just a few days before so individuals and groups can reflect in anticipation or incorporate it into their meetings, homilies, etc. The reflection will be available on our homepage through the weekend and then archived on our Advent 2022 webpage.
The reflection below is from Pax Christi USA Ambassadors of Peace and founding members Janice and Gerry Vanderhaar from the 1996 Advent reflection booklet, The Word Becomes Human so that We Might Become Full Alive: Advent and Christmas Season 1996
by Janice and Gerry Vanderhaar
Pax Christi USA Ambassadors of Peace
Eve … became the mother of all the living. (Gn 3:20)
“Let it be done to me as you say.” (Lk 1:38)
The words “Immaculate Conception”, often misunderstood as the virginal conception of Jesus, remind us instead of Mary’s own sinlessness. The title, Immaculate Conception, means that Mary herself was conceived free from original sin. Pope Pius IX proclaimed this dogma in 1854. Mary, he said, was totally free from sin from the first moment of her conception.
The book of Genesis declared the first Eve to be the mother of all living persons. Now we see Mary as the new Eve, the woman who reversed the original trend of sin set in motion by humanity’s biblical parents in the Garden of Eden.
It has been said that original sin is the only one of the Church’s doctrines that is empirically verifiable. We see it every day, this weakness of human nature, we feel it in our bones. All too frequently, like St. Paul, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Rm 7:15). Mary alone, according to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, was free from this dilemma.
Belief that Mary was immaculately conceived emerged gradually and not without difficulty. How could Christ be the redeemer of the whole human race if one person, his mother, was entirely free from sin? Thomas Aquinas had his doubts. It’s hard for a totally sinless Mary to be a realistic model. Many instead see in her an idealized maternal image, the perfect mother we all wish we had had when we were young: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary, the mother of the Church; Mary, our mother.
But she could not have been aware of any of this when she heard the angel’s announcement in Nazareth. Mary was totally oblivious to the theological issues she would give rise to over the next two millennia. She was simply a young woman engaged to be married. Except that she had just been told by an angel that she was to be the mother of the Promised One of Ages! We imagine her surprise. We imagine her immediately recalling the so-called facts of life. “How can this be since I do not know man?” When the angel told her that this incomprehensible mystery was to be an act of God, beyond human understanding, her faith-filled response was immediate and direct: “Let it be done to me as you say.” Let it be done to me according to your word. Okay. With her acceptance, the Word of God was conceived, became human with her.
That’s the awe-provoking Word that, in John’s prologue, was spoken “in the beginning,” when God created the heavens and the earth. Over time the Word was revealed through prophets and saints. But it was not until Mary’s simple “okay” that the Word became fully human. It was through her assent that the Word is revealed in humanity for her time, for our time, for all time. This is the Word that changed the world. And Mary made it happen.
What act of peace in our world are you being asked to assent to?
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