Immaculate Conception Sermon: The New Beginning
You know what it’s like to want to start over – to know that things haven’t gone how they were supposed to go, that it should have been different. We hear today about such a bad start -- Adam and Eve in the garden – how they ruined the goodness of God’s original plan for all of us.
If we asked ourselves, “What was humanity’s second chance? When did God give us a fresh start?” we might think of Noah and the flood. Things were going very, very badly. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually … But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Gen 6:5,9)
Noah, finding favor in God’s eyes, along with his family, gets the chance for a new start. Wiping away the sinfulness from the earth, they get a new beginning. But it’s not long before things go awry again. “Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen 9:20-21). Noah is a good man, but he’s just a man.
The problem is that Noah is still operating outside the dispensation of grace. The favor he finds in God’s sight is one of merely human perfection. Thus the new beginning, the new covenant offered by God to Noah, is only a partial new beginning. It rewinds quite far, but not far enough. Noah’s new beginning only goes back to the point where we leave off today – man and woman left to experience the sweat of his brow and the pains of her childbearing.
Today, we celebrate the true and complete new beginning offered to the human race in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She receives not just a second chance to do things right, like man received in Noah, or like we received countless times from our own indulgent and merciful parents, but a restoration to how things were always supposed to be. From the very moment of Her conception, She remains free from any stain of original sin. In Her, something completely new, something completely different has happened.
Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a sign that mankind is not doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, but that, in Her Son Jesus Christ, something new has happened. Every honor, every truth we recognize about the Blessed Virgin points us back to Her Son, the fullness of this new beginning offered to all God’s sons and daughters.
Yet, many might object, isn’t this claiming too much for a mere mortal? Why would we say that Mary Herself is the new beginning, when the source of the grace offered to mankind does not originate from Her but from Her Son. But we see in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that God desires this grace of perfect holiness for all of us. “He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” And if God can choose all of us from “before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before Him,” surely He can choose the woman who is to be the Mother of His Son to be preserved from all stain of sin, to already incarnate the new beginning offered to mankind in His Son.
“In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory.” If God can destine each one of us, why could He not predestine Mary for the great glory of purity and holiness that redounds to His own glory? What we are claiming for the Blessed Virgin is little more than what God originally desired for all of us.
Mary is not only predestined for Her role as the virgin mother of God. She chooses to accept this role, to be not only the mother of the Savior, but the new mother of all this living. In choosing to be the mother of Christ, She chooses to be our mother as well. Mary has chosen you as Her beloved son or daughter. She is a sign that every child, every person, every human life is willed into existence out of the infinite love of God, who not only provides the gift of life, but who gives us His own Mother as our spiritual mother as well. We saw last Sunday that the highest love requires desiring the highest good. Mary has this highest love of you and me in perfection because She will the greatest good – She desires and wants to help you live the holy and blameless life made possible by Her immaculate conception – so that you, like Her, might also exists for the praise of God’s glory.
We often ask how we can imitate the Blessed Mother when She received a singular gift that none of us have or could have received – being born without original sin, without every experiencing any temptation to sin. In seeking to imitate the Blessed Virgin, we have a guide in St. Joseph. Today, the Church throughout the world concludes a year in honor of St. Joseph. Joseph’s marriage to the Blessed Virgin was a unique marriage in its holiness and virginal purity, but it was a real marriage nonetheless. In fact, it was the most real marriage, because it involved the closest possible union of two married human hearts and the highest marital sharing in the greatest possible goods. Mary communicated the graces She received to Joseph – for which many authors assert that Joseph never committed a single sin after taking Her into his home. Joseph’s intercession can obtain for us a greater devotion to his beloved wife, and his steadfast devotion holds up the possibility for us of imitating the highest honor of the human race.
Things did not go according to plan for the first mother of the living, and yet, in some mysterious sense, they have gone how they were supposed to go. The effects of sin bring pain and darkness to our life, but they have also won for us a pure and spotless Mother, the pledge of eternal life already dawning in the new beginning of the human race.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, A.D. MMXXI
Image: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Immaculate Conception of El Escorial. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Immaculate_Conception_of_El_Escorial#/media/File:Bartolom%C3%A9_Esteban_Perez_Murillo_021.jpg