Preached at S. Mary’s, Bourne Street, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2019
The Archangel Gabriel is wandering through the streets of Galilee, looking for someone good enough to merit bearing God’s own self, muttering and complaining as he finds no one good enough, until he comes to a small alley in the dirty end of Nazareth and finds a young woman perfect and holy, suitable for this great task…
This did not happen. God did not decide to become incarnate from the Virgin Mary with a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was carefully planned, planned before she was born and perhaps before the world was born…
God did not choose Mary because she was perfect. God made her perfect. This is what the Immaculate Conception is all about. Mary was, by a special and singular grace of God, free from sin. She was, from the instant of her conception, not constrained, not tied down, by the selfishness of human sin. She was free. She possessed what S. Paul called ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God.’
God didn’t have to make Mary immaculate. Compare that tentative, careful, domestic, intimate experience of Mary with the experience of S. Paul on the road to Damascus. God could have appeared in light and glory to Mary and overwhelmed her, and Jesus would have been every bit as incarnate.
Instead, God came to seek humanity’s coöperation in the Incarnation. God came to seek humanity’s coöperation in restoring what humanity had corrupted by sin. God came to this young woman, in an unfashionable town, in a country without power or glamour, and sought her help in saving the world.
And because God made her free, because God made her at liberty, because God freed her from the bonds of sin, Mary could say ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’
This is what Christianity promises. This is the freedom we are promised in Jesus Christ. Not that we can charge about, recklessly making whatever decisions we like. No: our true liberty, our true freedom, our true nature is to be like Mary, seeking only to do the will of God.
Mary is the immaculate one, free from every stain of sin in every moment of her life and so able to show us what true humanity is.
And so with Gabriel, we can say, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.’
With S. Elizabeth, we can say, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’
And with the Church through the ages, we can say ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.’