Our Lady Immaculate, our model for preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Immaculate Conception of the Venerable Ones - leveled

Listening with respect to the message of the angel, and prudently questioning him on how it was possible for her to be the Mother of Christ, Our Lady gave her immediate, willing and whole-hearted consent. From then on, her prayerful expectation of the birth of Christ is a model for us of the devout attitude we should endeavour to adopt during the season of Advent.

From the moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne, Our Lady, by a singular privilege, was free from original sin and never committed a single venial sin. Educated in the Temple from childhood, she faithfully and obediently followed the law of God as it was then in force for the Jewish people. She took part in the worship of the synagogue on the sabbath and went to Jerusalem for the great feasts. She observed those feasts with devotion, aware of their meaning which pointed to the Messiah, her own child, the One who is to come.

At those feasts, the psalms formed a major part of the liturgy. She would have known them well, along with the books of the prophets. She must have sung the psalms with a certain thrill of happiness, knowing the fullness of their meaning. Thanks to her Immaculate Conception, she understood them with greater insight than any before her. We should pray to her to obtain the grace for us to reverence those holy psalms and canticles of the inspired scriptures which form an integral part of the sacred liturgy of the Mass and the Divine Office.

By the grace of the Holy Spirit, and her singular vocation she also knew how the prophecies were being fulfilled as the child grew in her womb from a single-celled embryo that came to be through the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost. The natural joy of a mother looking forward to the birth of her child was immeasurably enriched by the knowledge communicated to her by the angel that this child was to be great, holy, the Son of God.

She was more privileged than all the prophets because she actually carried Christ, nourished Him through her own bloodstream, and was in a spiritual communion of holiness with Him.

When she heard “You are my son it is I who have begotten you this day” she knew that the Son was begotten now in time, in her own womb, to be our Saviour. When she heard the verse of Isaiah “The virgin will conceive and bear a son” she knew that this prophecy had come about in her own life. She will also have heard of the proclamation of Zechariah, the father of St John the Baptist: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people”, a prophecy that is sung every day today in the office of the Church.

Our Lady’s consent to the invitation of God to be the Mother of Christ was eagerly awaited by those looking forward to salvation, from Adam, through Abraham, Moses, King David, and the prophets. We know that creation protested at the crucifixion of Our Lord: creation must surely have rejoiced that its whole purpose was being fulfilled now in the humble assent of the Woman who was chosen by God to bring about what it was created for.

The conception of Jesus Christ was the pivotal moment of all human history, and indeed of the whole of creation. The coming of Christ in the flesh for our salvation is the master-key to understanding the meaning of the entire universe which God created from the Big Bang through all the ages of its development according to the Logos, the Word, the eternal Wisdom of God which in that moment of consent by a young women in Nazareth came into this world. Et Verbum caro factum est. And the Word was made flesh.

Finally, she saw His face.

The daughter of Sion, the morning star, the gate of heaven herself, was able to welcome the Messiah into the world and to gaze lovingly upon His holy face with delight, and prayerful adoration. St John Paul spoke of the Rosary as “contemplating with Mary the face of Christ.” It would be hard to find a better concise summary of that prayer which I encourage you to say daily. During Advent we would do well to renew our love of the Rosary while thinking of the first occasion there in the stable at Bethlehem when our Blessed Mother contemplated the face of her divine Son.

Thinking too, of Our Lady’s love of the Jewish liturgy from which ours succeeds with the authority of our Lord and with the fullness of His presence, we should remember how she also participated in that same Catholic Liturgy which we are celebrating here today. During the time between our Lord’s Ascension to heaven and her own Assumption to be with Him, she knew the singing of the psalms in continuity with the Jewish Liturgy with which she was so familiar. She also took part in the celebration of the New Covenant, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the sharing in that great sacrifice by receiving Holy Communion. She who carried Him in her womb and nurtured Him, now received Him with unutterable reverence until the time for her to take her place with Him in heaven, seeing Him face to face again in the beatific vision.

Advent is indeed a preparation for the feast of Christmas here on earth, but the prayer of the Church reminds us that it is also a preparation for that eternal sacred Liturgy in heaven when we hope, like Mary, to see our Lord face to face in an eternal communion of love. In the longer earthly Advent which is the whole of the Christian spiritual life, let us call on the prayers of our Mother and Queen to help us prepare so that we may be worthy to take our place with her in heaven.

Sermon given at St Bede’s Clapham Park on 8 December 2019

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