It is most appropriate that we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception during the season of Advent because the arrival of Mary is a critical step in the historical preparation for the “advent,” the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer of mankind.
From the very beginning of time, God’s plan was that we human beings enjoy the glory of heaven with him for all eternity. This is what St. Paul expresses in his beautiful Letter to the Ephesians, from which today’s second reading is taken. He writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” This is the reason why God created us: to be holy and without blemish – that is, immaculate – and to enjoy the glory of heaven.
Unfortunately, Satan in his lethal envy does not want anyone to enjoy what he himself is deprived of because of his rebellion. He who was disobedient from the beginning became the deceiver who leads others into disobedience. Satan is the tricky serpent whose temptation is behind the sin of our first parents, as we know from the Book of Genesis. As a result of the Fall, we were no longer “holy and without blemish.” We inherited a wounded and weakened condition which makes it difficult for us to live as God intended for us.
God, whose love has no end, was moved by the plight of the human family afflicted by the sad reality of sin. He decided upon a remedy for sin and a protection from the wiles of Satan. The first revelation of this remedy is announced in today’s first reading. It is a kind of “first Gospel” (proto-evangelium), the first proclamation of the Good News of the coming of the Messiah-Redeemer. God, speaking to the serpent-Satan, declares: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Gen 3:15). Clearly, the Woman referred to here is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother whose offspring, Jesus Christ, will crush the head of the serpent. Christ, through his death on the Cross, will win victory for us over Satan, sin and death, and will regain for us eternal life.
Talking about the victory of Christ over Satan, St. John Chrysostom writes: “You have observed his outstanding triumph, the splendid achievement of the cross. Now let me tell you something even more remarkable, the manner in which he gained his victory, and you will marvel all the more. Christ conquered the devil using the same means and the same weapons that the devil used to win. Let me tell you how this occurred. The symbols of our fall were a virgin, a tree and death. The virgin was Eve (for she had not yet known man); then there was the tree; and death was Adam’s penalty. And again these three tokens of our destruction, the virgin, the tree and death, became the tokens of our victory. Instead of Eve there was Mary; instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the wood of the cross; instead of Adam’s death, the death of Christ” (Homily, De coemeterio et de cruce. In Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday, Vol. 4, p. 1660).
To prepare for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer of man and the Conqueror of Satan, God planned and prepared a fitting dwelling place. Since the Savior to come is God who will be born as a man, he must have a mother, and his mother must be free from all stain of sin. She must be a new Eve, a new “mother of all the living.” God therefore preserved from the moment of her conception the Woman who will give birth to his Son. This is what we celebrate today, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We believe that from the very instant of her being conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, God preserved and saved Mary from being contaminated by sin.
How did this happen? Through the merits of the redeeming Death of Jesus on the Cross. God used his victory in advance to preserve from sin the Woman whose offspring will crush the head of the serpent. He did it this way because God is holy, and as the Archangel Gabriel says to Mary in today’s Gospel, “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a celebration of God’s holiness and his limitless power to redeem us. He goes to any length to save us. The Gospel of today, which recounts the moment of the Annunciation, helps us focus our mind and heart on the coming of the One who is our Savior, the One for whom “nothing is impossible.” We rejoice that he chose the Virgin Mary and made her a worthy instrument in his work of our salvation. We rely on her prayers, “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
Why do I find it difficult to live according to God’s will for me? Do I rely upon Mary as an instrument in the work of my salvation? Am I willing to trust in Christ’s victory over Satan?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.