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I was delighted to step out of the extreme cold and into church on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The lights were on, and the church was warm. The lectionary was already opened on the ambo and the cruets and unconsecrated hosts were all set out. The candles on the altar were lit, and soft music was playing before Mass began. Everything was ready. Well, almost everything.
To one side of the nave a platform had been erected, and the large wooden stable occupied at Christmas by beautiful figurines, had been set upon it. None of the nativity scene statues were there, of course. In fact, the grass or hay or cloth--(I don’t remember which)--that’s used to cover the platform had not yet been put in place. Things were definitely in process, but not complete. The plan was clear and underway, but not yet fully executed.
As Mass began, it occurred to me that the Immaculate Conception of Mary was, in essence, very much like the church I had just entered. That is, Mary’s Immaculate Conception belongs to God’s providence, His preparation for Christmas. Over the centuries God had readied His people Israel to recognize and receive the salvation He would send in Jesus Christ. The land and the covenant, the law, the prophets, the exodus and exile, the Holy City and the Temple, the festivals of the year: all were divine preparations for the great event of God’s coming.
To us it may seem that the Infant Son of God entered a world ill prepared to receive him. But when the fullness of time finally arrived, God had made every provision. He had laid all the groundwork, and made every preparation. God was more than ready to enter the world.
Beyond any historical event or prophetic utterance, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most eloquent testimony to God’s providence for our redemption. At the moment of her first existence, she was set apart from sin for the sake of salvation. She was the final preparation, the last piece in place, the opening of the curtain, as it were, for the creator to enter creation.
The Immaculate Conception proves to us that God is keeping watch, that his plans cannot and will not be thwarted. God does not idly dream or fantasize. His plans always prevail. His word does not return empty. The seeds God plants always blossom in due season.
Mary is the full flowering of all humanity. The culmination of the Great Advent that God observed before the birth of his son is the Virgin of Nazareth. Mary is God’s joy. Though just a shade deeper than childhood, she is the one through whose life and womb God thundered into the world. She is the garden set apart for God to walk in once again. She is the New Eve given to Christ, the Last Adam. At the moment she becomes the Mother of God, she is destined to become the mother of all the Living.
Jesus told his disciples that he would go and prepare a place for them in his father’s house. In all we do to prepare for this Christmas season, indeed, in all we do throughout our lives to prepare ourselves for Christ’s many comings, it is good to know that God is busy preparing too. He does not need to prepare himself. But in his grace, God prepares us -- our hearts, our lives, our souls for him -- just as he prepared the womb of the ever-sinless Virgin Mary. O Mary, conceived with out sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.