What the Immaculate Conception Has to Do with Advent

My “nesting instinct” has kicked in full force, and the house and my calendar are bristling with preparations for Christmas.  In the middle of it all, the Immaculate Conception reminds me that all the cleaning and baking and buying should reflect something even bigger going on inside me: preparations for Christ’s coming to my heart.

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When we meet Mary on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, she is already immaculate, already crowned in glory. We take her purity for granted:  she’s the Mother of God, after all!  But think for a minute about what it took for the holy God to make his home in, and take the flesh of, a human being:

Our first parents walked with God in the Garden of Eden, but the Fall ended that easy communion. Fiery swords blocked their way to the Tree of Life and from then on, no person could approach God without preparing.

“Take off your shoes,” God told Moses from inside the burning bush.

“Do not let the … people … come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them,”(Exodus 19:24) the Lord commanded from Mt. Sinai.  His glory there “was like a devouring fire in the sight of the people.” (Exodus 24:2,17)

Anything tainted by sin burns away in the presence of the all-holy God.  Perhaps that is one reason the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence rested, was overlaid in gold and the mercy seat and cherubim overshadowing it were beaten from pure gold. Gold passes through fire and is purified, not burned.

Not surprisingly, then, when it came time for God to take on flesh, he prepared a holy vessel. Like the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses, Mary held God within her and was not consumed. (For this reason, artists for centuries have depicted Mary, holding Jesus, cradled by holy flames). It was not Mary’s innate holiness that allowed her to do this.  It was holiness imputed to her by prevenient grace. Applying the merits of Christ’s death to her ahead of time, God saw to it that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin.  She was indeed “full of grace” —from the start, she had what it took to stand in God’s presence.

If Mary had to be prepared to receive the Christ-child in her womb, how much more should we prepare to receive him in our hearts?

We heard from Isaiah and John the Baptist:  “Prepare the way of the Lord!” and  “Repent!”  Mary shows us that in spite of our frailty, we too can receive God. Let us make fitting preparation for his coming to us.

This article was first published on The Great Adventure Blog December 2015.


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Sarah Christmyer

Sarah Christmyer is co-developer with Jeff Cavins of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program. She serves as Strategic Consultant of The Great Adventure and is author or co-author of a number of the studies. Sarah has thirty years of experience leading and teaching Bible studies. She helped launch Catholic Scripture Study and is co-author of "Genesis Part I: God and His Creation" and "Genesis Part II: God and His Family," published by Emmaus Road. Sarah has a BA in English literature from Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and is working toward a Masters of Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Raised in a strong evangelical family, she was received into the Catholic Church in 1992. Sarah also writes at comeintotheword.com/.

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  • Reed Chauffe

    What a special meaning this Advent season must mean to you as your “nesting instinct” is taking place with not only the arrival of the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, but of your daughter’s first child. I’m sure God has a special Guardian Angel already picked out
    for this child of God to be welcomed into this word so close to the time of the birth of Christ. I will keep your daughter and her child in my prayers for a healthy delivery.Trust is all the Archangel Gabriel asked of Mary, the Blessed Mother had to do for being the vessel of bring Jesus into the world to save all mankind.

  • Avila

    Advent can be such a busy distracting time that it is difficult to balance priorities. There are the many obligations to family, friends, colleagues and work, yet Advent is not just about writing cards, baking and shopping. It is about preparing for the coming of Jesus, even though He is with us. Part of that preparation naturally includes family, friends and others, but it is a time to prepare spiritually, to ensure that as best as I can for the moment when I get up and say “Happy Birthday Jesus”.

    Two years ago, Advent started with a feeling of wrongness, somehow being askew, feeling off. The first year, my priest said that I should take time to seriously meditate on what the cause could be. He then suggested that maybe this was a gift from a loving God, who knew how much I love this time of year. The same happened this year, so I went back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and peace gently drew me back. What the cause of the feeling was or is, I do not know, but it is a beautiful gift to restore the balance between all the different aspects of preparing for Jesus. And this year, it dawned on me, I love Advent, holding back from wasting money, joyfully giving and waiting in anticipation for 5.30 am on 25 December to enjoy the peaceful hush that is somehow more intense and fulfilling than any other moment of quiet.

  • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

    As I have been thinking about this idea of per-imminence and the attitude of men toward women (both of which are important to this feast)…I have a few thoughts that have crossed my mind…and I am just going to throw them out there for consideration…As I have been thinking about my own conception of GOD, I have come to realize how limiting I have made Him in my own mind: What if God far surpasses what I think God is? (I know it is true that He is for I believe we don’t know Him fully), so if this is the case, where are we going to go to find God, if we want to delve into the limitlessness of God? There is only one place that we, as human being can go to do this…Namely, in the realm of our imagination…in our dreams, in our fantasies, in our most “out there” thoughts, ideas, and realities…Going out into the “other world”…so to speak…when we enter into this world, we find worlds that are vibrant, colorful, creative, imaginative, spontaneous, lively, and VERY, VERY Spiritual…This is the realm of possibilities…God’s realm…I have noticed this when I or someone I know has seen a painting or heard a song or read a piece of poetry that has struck a cord way down deep into their inner core…This is one of reasons I believe David was called a man after God’s own heart (he played God’s music); why Abraham was called the Father of All People (He was willing to jump into an unknown adventure without reservations); why Solomon was called the wisest king (he dared to dream the impossible)…and finally, Jesus (He (his human side) dared the ultimate of all-He dared to see Himself as a Son…though He called Himself a Son of Man; others questioned whether He was the Son of God; and He answered, “You say that I am.”

    Luke 22:70

    On the other issue: The attitude of men toward Mary; and as a consequence their attitude toward women in general…If we acknowledge that just as we can definitively find in Scripture this teaching on Mary, but we hold that it is true…we can therefore say, that over the coarse of the ages, as our “spiritual knowledge” has expanded, we have come to “know” things as truths of what God really desires for us. To accept this: 1. That we are broken and imperfect in our words, deeds, thoughts, and desires. 2. That we must be willing to humble ourselves to acknowledge our perfections and limitations; and ask God to clear our minds of whatever imperfections that He wishes to, accepting the fact that we are still going to be broken, and not wholly made perfect until such time as He feels we are ready to rest entirely in Him. 3. Then step back, and wait for God to make a move in our lives…trusting in Him to do so.

    This process has happened time and time again over the coarse of millennium with individuals (the Prophets-Words of God); with nations (the Jews, for one-Belief in One, True, God); with groups of people ( Puritans-Focus was on the Purity and Perfection of God; the Mormons-Focus on the Family as important Gift of God), etc. I could go on, but suffice it to say, you get the picture.
    To go on to the attitude of women…We have come to realize that Mary: The Most Honored Woman of All Time-Mother of God…was also, raised to a new position by God before all men.
    Not only was she named as Mother of God, but also, taken by God the Holy Spirit as His Spouse!! And further more, we believe, God went even farther, He named her Queen over all the Nations of the Earth…We have seen that fulfilled with every nation having given Mary various titles to signify how they are going to see her as their queen…(The one, I am particularly fond of is Our Lady of Guadalupe, as she is Queen of the Americas). But what does this have to do with women? Everything!! You tell me…If God has raised Mary, a woman, to this very high place of honor, who are we to look on any woman (whether we are men or we are women)as despicable and not worthy of respect. Jesus, who had this beautiful wonderful woman as His Mother, didn’t look despicably on the woman of ill repute!! How can we, I ask you? Women, God has raised through Mary, to a high place of honor-one on par with Her Son…For the Holy Spirit is equal to the Son and the Father…So Mary has been raised by God to this position of equality as well. So I ask you…How can we justify our placing women on a lower plane than men…when clearly that is not what God is telling us?

    I realize this is going to raise some eyebrows and cause much discussion, and I am okay with that…I have learned a long time ago…that debate and discussion are good things, not bad. But I have spoken long enough…so I am going to stop here. Have a nice day. And keep smiling…For I know in my heart of hearts that God loves us, and as a friend as told me, “What will be, will be.” 🙂

  • Reed Chauffe

    What a beautiful season of Advent we are having in South Louisiana. As we continue to prepare for the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Cajun style, I have to stop and think of all the blessings I have had this year which included the NCBC in Doylestown this Summer. I came home with my head and soul spinning from all the wonderful people that have become life long friends. I have many new church parishes that have opened their doors to this new evangelization and thirst for wanting to know not only how to study the bible timeline, but who also are eager to know more of their Catholic faith. I have so much information to teach people that I have mini seminars a couple times a month that I have gone from one venue to larger venues as the word spreads. I have instructions from a good friend that is a Jesuit priest who also is my spiritual advisor. A project that this priest has me working on is with the prison chaplin at the state penatenatry. The chaplin would like for me to come in and do a one day Bible Timeline as a review of the 24 session that the inmates are about to finish. I have given this before to a Confirmation class as part of their retreat weekend. I have two bible timeline studies that will start in mid January (this is the 8th timeline), Matthew, Acts, Revalation, and Epic (the second part), and just finishing up Mary by Eddie Sri for Advent. God is great for allowing me to spread his word in such a way that all ages can understand the way that you, Jeff, and the rest of Ascension Peace have put together a very simplistic teaching tool that is easy to teach and for students to follow. If you get a chance, talk to Karyn O’Neal about my story. May the blessings of CHRISTmas bring peace and joy to you and your family, your friend in Jesus Christ, Amen! Reed Chauffe

    • Thank you, Reed, that is beautiful! I will look forward to hearing more from Karyn. Blessings on you and on all you are doing for the Lord.

  • Student

    Yes absolutely, we should celebrate Mary’s Immaculate Conception. However, for who Mary is in the economy of salvation, it is as if her being the mother of the Son of God is not enough for veneration that we need to dig more for us to give her due place in our life.. There is nothing we can add or take away from who she is but what we can be to her.
    For me it is more important to talk how we relate to Mary, that we relate to her according to our status in life; if a child as a child, if an adult as an adult. This topic is more practical in living the Christian life.
    Adult men specially have a hard time relating to her without feeling like a child. There is a feeling of awkwardness to this for men who have already a respectful loving adult relationship with their mothers. I think many Christians (not Catholics) men shy away from her, not her fault, because of how the Church had addressed the situation. So other Christian men prefer to talk against her instead of dealing the internal conflict of who she is to them. Jesus as an adult obviously interacted with her as an adult (“Woman. my time has not yet come.”) so with John the Evangelist and other apostles. She has cut the proverbial apron string when she said to the servants at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” Adult Christian men are now more focused on HIM than on her. Nevertheless, she will always be mother to us. (“Woman behold your son.” “Behold your mother.” )