Scripture Readings for December 8, 2017
Today the readings from Genesis and Luke are foundational stories of faith: the sin of Adam and the announcement of Jesus’ virginal conception. The stories are here as a way to celebrate an article of faith about Mary, her Immaculate Conception. It is an example of how the body of belief develops over time. One thing we hold as central, Jesus is the son of God born because of God’s action and not human initiative, leads to the realization that something else makes sense as well, that Mary was conceived without original sin because she would be the mother of Jesus.
Faced with these long accepted items of faith, it is important for me to remember that these stories are how we convey meaning. We tell stories to hold ideas that are the most elemental and far reaching for our existence. These are often ideas we can’t fully grasp, we’re trying to capture what may be elemental instincts about who we are and what we’re about and a narrative illustrates rather than analyzes. A narrative can hold contradictory elements better than logical arguments and so the normative measure of our faith is a book of stories and poetry.
So to honor Mary’s Immaculate Conception is, for me, to talk about how God reaches out to all human beings from the very beginning of our lives to offer us the grace, support or presence that enables us to live happy, productive, holy lives. In simpler terms, Mary represents the perfect example of what is possible for all of us.
So that said, what do I see in today’s readings? It occurs to me that perhaps we don’t take the story of Mary seriously enough. What I mean is that it’s too easy to make Mary perfect. We assume her relationship with God was so special that it’s an unattainable single instance of graced existence. I suspect the story is meant to inspire the opposite. We should take the life of Mary as an example of what is named in both Genesis and Luke, “nothing will be impossible for God.” We all have a blessed existence.
There is strong support for this line of thinking in the Hebrews reading for today. It says God, “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens … to be holy and without blemish before him.” That’s pretty strong, to be holy and without blemish. It sounds like a description of Mary or, for that matter, Jesus. The point being that we too are beloved of God, each of us. Too often we don’t accept our own goodness. Life experiences and other people can run us down, raising questions about our abilities or intentions. Too often our confidence and positive self-image are fragile. We need the support of others, we need to recognize that from the beginning we have been good and at our deepest core it is goodness that supports who we want to become. That’s what we should take away from the stories about Mary and Jesus in the Bible. God made us, from the beginning, to be holy and good and happy. Believe it.