Sermon for Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Preached at Bethany Convent, Arlington
In the Roman church today’s feast is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a feast that commemorates not merely Mary’s conception in her mother Anna’s womb, but commemorates that she, like Jesus, was conceived immaculately without sin. In the Episcopal Church, we celebrate only the Conception of Mary, making no claims as to its immaculate nature.
While it might be a fun exercise to do the theological “calculus,” as it were, of why it was important that Mary, too, be conceived immaculately, that isn’t what we Episcopalians say is important. We celebrate the Conception of Mary not so much because of what is says theologically, but because it is helpful devotionally. As Br. James Koester, SSJE once said, we Episcopalians don’t really write about Mary so much as we sing about Mary. We are not so much interested in the “calculus” of the theology as we are in the helpfulness of the devotion.
Today’s feast is an opportunity to increase our devotion to Mary, and through Mary, to her son Jesus. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Ignatius invites the retreatant to imagine him- or herself witnessing various events in Jesus’ life, placing oneself in the scene and getting to know Jesus. The more we get to know Jesus, thought Ignatius, the more we will come to love him. Retreatants were to begin their meditations right from the beginning, with Jesus’ birth. But knowing what we do about family systems – how the dynamics of a family play out in one generation to the next – wouldn’t it make sense, if we really wanted to know Jesus, to look more closely at Mary’s life? Maybe, as we consider Mary’s own conception – and her own birth and childhood and family life – we can begin to understand something of Mary, of the environment in which she grew up, of her childhood, of the dynamics in her family, of her relationship with her parents, of the elements in her life may have led her to say “yes” to the angel. Knowing about Mary’s family of origin can help us understand the dynamics in her family with Joseph, how she might have treated her own children, how she mothered Jesus and how her mothering was so important to Jesus’ formation. The possibilities are endless for imagining Mary’s life and her influence on Jesus.
As I consider Anne, and Mary’s conception, birth and childhood, I imagine that Anne did a great job parenting Mary. I think Anne and Joachim created an environment that was stable, in which Mary was able to flourish, and that helped Mary to develop into a person who had the openness and generosity to respond to the angel’s invitation.
Without such mothering, without such nurture, would Mary have become the Mother of God and been able to mother Jesus in the way she did??
I am grateful to Anne. I’m grateful to Anne for the nurture and mothering she gave to Mary – the nurturing and mothering she instilled in Mary! – so that Mary could be a nurturing mother to Jesus, who in turn nurtures and “mothers” us. The better we know Mary, the better we will know Jesus. And the better we know Jesus, the more we will love Him. And isn’t a mature, adult and loving relationship with Jesus what all our hearts desire?