Saturday, December 08, 2007

December 8--the Conception of Mary

For our sister and brother Roman Catholics, today is the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. We Anglicans won’t go that far, of course, no “immaculate” and no (at least we like to think) “obligation” either.

So this day is not on our official calendar, but it is “meet and right” to mark the conceiving of Mary, this remarkable woman who is both one of us and, as the ancients called her, “Theotokos,” “bearer of God.”

It is because it so important that she was “one of us” that I chafe at the “immaculate” part. It supposedly means that Mary was “conceived without sin” in order that Jesus could be “conceived without sin.” Personally speaking, I’m not sure that’s a very important part of what we call the Incarnation, particularly if the “sin” here means simply “sex.” Sex is not automatically sinful, despite the church’s often acting as if it is. It can be, of course, as can all things human-related. It can also, as all things human-related, be a glimpse of glory, a participation in glory.

Better to focus today on the truly remarkable reality that we proclaim, that God chose an ordinary woman to do an extraordinary thing. It gives us all, perhaps particularly women, great hope. I’m always reminded on this day of something Sojourner Truth once said,

That man say we can’t have as much rights as a man ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did your Christ come from? God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with it.

In the Roman Catholic liturgy today one of the readings is from Revelation 12:

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

It is a vision of the re-birth of the Son of Man, and Christians have always taken this to be Mary “clothed with the sun.” If I’m right and it’s important that Mary was just an ordinary woman, this vision is all the more spectacular and meaningful. It is a vision like the Ascension of Jesus, when we speak of Jesus carrying our humanity to heaven. Mary clothes our humanity with the sun. That’s worth savoring today. We are all ordinary men and women, and we are all, with Mary, bearers of God.

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