Advent is a season of hope, a hope that was lost through sin and has been marvelously restored by Jesus Christ. In this the second week of Advent, we are called to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord Jesus. As part of our preparation, today we have the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a celebration humbly displaced to today in deference to yesterday’s liturgy of the Second Sunday of Advent. Mary, a humble virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, is to be the mother of our Savior, Christ the Lord. In anticipation of her divine maternity, she was preserved free of all stain of sin, even from the moment of conception in her mother’s womb. What a great testament to hope is this work of our merciful heavenly Father!
As a consequence of our fallen condition, we are desperate for hope. Today’s reading from Genesis recalls the story of Adam and Eve and their fall – in which we too are embroiled. All of us are born in the marred condition we call original sin; it has been passed on from generation to generation. The disobedience of our first parents was preceded by the seduction of Satan, who fed Eve the lie that God is not to be trusted. How many of us still suffer from this lie of the evil one! The distortion in our trust makes it look to us like the “forbidden fruit” is only forbidden because God is withholding something good from us. Once Adam and Eve ate this lie, they immediately began to see themselves through their own warped vision rather than through the eyes of their loving Father. They felt naked and afraid, and they knew shame. They would not take responsibility for their actions, but rather blamed their sin on others; Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. The entire drama of the fall is built on a “No!” to God, a decision not to trust him. We are heirs to this “No”; we struggle to put our trust in a God who permits what we see as unmerited suffering in our lives and even in the lives of innocent children.
From the beginning, God had a plan to overcome the “No!” of Eve with the “Yes!” of a humble virgin, a new Eve. Mary was faced with a seemingly impossible situation. How could she bear a child without relations with a man? And yet, she trusted: “May it be done to me according to your word.” Her decision to trust was entirely her own, a free human act, but it was built upon the preeminent grace of her freedom from original sin. Because she was immaculate from the moment of her conception, she was able to make a perfect “Yes!”, a “Yes” from the depths of her pure heart. And the word became flesh in her virginal womb.
We stand in awe of God’s way of introducing sinlessness back into the human family. But we may not see at first how the gift given to Mary benefits us. She was preserved from sin, but we were not. Original sin still affects us every day as we struggle to overcome the “No” of our selfish nature and to renew our “Yes” to the will of God. We can feel that it is simply too late for us to be “immaculate.”
In answer to this concern, we turn with delight to St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians. He explains that our heavenly Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and has chosen us in him, “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” Paul is saying that God has already solved the problem of sin! He has already made us holy and without blemish – that is, immaculate – all for the praise of his glory!
This is God’s promise; do we believe it? Our freedom comes with trust in him. The tempter will continually try to break down our trust, shatter our hope, infect us with his “No.” But the power of a new “Yes!” has already been unveiled for us. We can say “Yes” to the grace of God! This is our new Advent hope!
How do I take responsibility for my actions and not blame others just like Adam and Eve did? How aware am I of the effects of Original sin in my life? Do the words of St. Paul give me hope that God has chosen me in him “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.