Reflection for the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception

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Reflection for the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception

Patricia Gamgort, OSB | December 7, 2021

St. Luke’s Gospel of the Annunciation celebrates Jesus’ mother and her encounter with the Divine. (Perhaps a similar encounter took place when Anna conceived Mary, the Feast we celebrate in her Immaculate Conception.)

In the first chapter of Luke, the stage is precisely set for the coming of God into world history:

“In the 6th month, the angel Gabriel was sent to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David and the virgin’s name was Mary.”

In this one long sentence, Luke proclaims a turning point of history for the whole world that hinged on each “yes” from Mary and Joseph.

Joseph and Mary were poor, living in an insignificant town – “Can anything good come from Nazareth!” – they were Jews living under Roman rule. Joseph’s father was Jacob; and Joseph himself was a craftsman, a carpenter, who taught Jesus his trade; and that Joseph was living at least into Jesus’ 13th year.  Joseph left us no words, but Gabriel engaged him, too.

Mary was a young mother, who accompanied her son during his public life until his death.  Mary appears several times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and we are blessed with many of her words. To this young woman came the angel Gabriel with a startling greeting: “Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with you!”

Mary had to have been surprised, terrified, utterly confused! She pondered what kind of greeting this might be, while Gabriel continues with the words:  “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God, you will conceive and bear a son; he will be called Jesus, the Son of the Most High.”

Mary hadn’t said “yes” yet, but she was already addressed as “full of grace” and she had “found favor with God” – even before her Fiat.

Lots to ponder.  Mary finally found her voice: “How can this be?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”   

Not a very clear answer to her question.  Then Gabriel tells Mary how Elizabeth, aged and barren, had conceived.  Then adds the punch line: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary responds:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done unto me according to your word.”

The beauty of Mary’s answer for me is that this young, seemingly powerless Jewish woman – without consulting anyone –  agreed to bring the Powerful One into the world with her simple YES.

And more startling, for me, is the fact that God waited on Mary.  She could have said “No.” 

I’ve often wondered how many women were asked to conceive Jesus?

Mary says “Yes” to a future she does not know.

Then, after her saying “Yes,” some of the scariest words in Scripture appear:  “With that, the angel left her!”

Mary had no script for her life and no former personal experiences with angels and messages. She is an example of letting God do God’s will without trying to figure it out.

Even amidst her sometimes confusion, Mary learned to be patient with ambiguity, especially in the events in Jesus’ life before his public ministry – events sprinkled with hows and whys, surprise, astonishment, and distress.  

Mary was never told:

  • she and Joseph would have to leave family and friends and birth Jesus in a stable,
  • they would have to flee into Egypt to avoid Jesus being killed by Herod
  • a sword of sorrow would break her heart – a harbinger of Jesus’ passion and death
  • and that Jesus would be lost for three days in Jerusalem

Mary hears God’s Word spoken through angels, prophets, and her son. 

Mary is a woman of the Word, a ponderer: she chews on the Word, meditates on the Word, remembers the angel’s words at the Annunciation: “The Lord is with you.”  And she believed.

It wasn’t until Easter Sunday that Mary’s ambiguities finally made sense, but first she had to trust! And she did!

What happened to Mary, happens to us.  The Annunciation mirrors the life of those who believe:

Sometimes God breaks into our life in unexpected ways and initiates the conversation we fear. God hints at what will be required. We doubt, we discern, we pray. God points us to past experiences and helps us trust.

Just as Mary looked back at what God had done in the life of Elizabeth – and in her own life – she trusted those words that always confirmed her “Yes”: “Nothing is impossible with God.” 

We look back and see how God has been with us in difficult times. Recalling those memories of God’s activity in the past enables us to trust in the future… asking that like Mary, we might be able to  let God do God’s will without trying to figure it all out.

Let us ponder and let us pray:

Mary, Woman of the Word,

Ponderer of Mystery,

Believer in Emmanuel,

Enable us to say “YES” to a future we cannot see –

Remembering a past “YES” at First Profession when we

placed a childlike trust in an unknown future;

pondering how we were transformed then,

and now, trusting we will live into further transformation,

believing in God who is always Emmanuel!

And who lives forever and ever.  AMEN!