But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate."
Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel."
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel as sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, you relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception centers on God's loving power to make us holy. Our Blessed Lady's integrity or holiness right from the moment of her conception is not something she achieved by her own power. It is a pure gift of God, given to her for a saving purpose. It was in her genes, as we might say today, on behalf of us all. For it was supremely fitting that the woman who brought our Saviour into the world should be herself totally free from sin and available to do God's work.
The foundation for today's feast is belief in a provident God, who provides for the future, who prepares His children for their assigned task in life even before they are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the qualities we need to play our assigned role. While still in the womb, unborn, God anoints those men and women whom He chooses as prophets and leaders of His people. Jeremiah was told, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." God does not just launch us into this world as beasts, meant to fight it out among ourselves. The evolutionary view of the survival of the fittest, of "Nature red in tooth and claw," may well describe the animal kingdom, but it is not the destiny of the people of God redeemed by grace from the harmful effects of the Fall.
As we admire our Blessed Lady, God's most favoured one ("Full of grace") on the feast of her conception, let us thank God for His love and mercy which embraces us right from the moment of our own conception. As Scripture says, "or who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Cor 4:7). Everything is gift, everything good in us is by God's grace. For we all, children of God, are also favoured and heirs of God's grace. Yet Mary remains the most favoured one, the mother of all graced ones, the one that enjoys the fullness of grace.
Today we honour the Immaculate Conception—the creation of Mary in her mother's womb—and we are awed once more at how God works. God so loved the world that in the fullness of time, he gave the world his only begotten son. Yet we recall that he also gave us Mary—this perfect vessel to contain his son, a woman unstained by original sin so that, from the moment of her conception, she was immaculate. In doing that, God set the stage for the beautiful event we just heard in this Gospel—the Annunciation, which brought about another conception, when Mary conceived Jesus in her womb.
To a skeptical world—or to a puzzled teenager in Nazareth—it all sounds impossible. But of course: nothing is impossible with God. A popular carol from this time of year rejoices in the "wonders of his love." This feast underscores the extravagant love that brought joy to the world. And it places at the forefront a humble peasant girl "full of grace," the great collaborator in God's plan for our salvation. How could we not exult in this? "Sing to the Lord a new song," the psalmist tells us tonight, "for he has done wondrous deeds." He has made his salvation known!
In particular, we remember it is a salvation that began long before the first Gospel was written. It began before the empty tomb. It began before Calvary. It started before the miracles and the teachings. It goes back before Christ walked on water or fed the multitude, before the stable in Bethlehem, and even before the visit from an angel in Nazareth. It is a salvation that in a real and tangible way began with the event we commemorate here and now: the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
This is where Mary's story begins—and, in a sense, our story, too. Here begins the glorious chain of events that led to our salvation. Attention must be paid. We need to remember this. We need to hold this "wonder of his love" close to our hearts, and keep recalling it—just like all the other great moments of our history, moments that define us and uplift us and that bear, somehow, the fingerprints of God. Isn't it all a wonder?