This is probably the most confusing feast on the church calendar. Part of the reason is the Gospel that we just heard talks about Mary’s “yes” that allowed her to conceive Christ. But today we are celebrating the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are celebrating when MARY was conceived, NOT when Jesus was conceived. We celebrate that Mary was totally preserved from the stain of original sin AND that she remained pure from ALL personal sin throughout her life. That is why the angel Gabriel greeted her with, “Hail, full of grace!” She truly was Immaculate and full of grace as befits the mother of Jesus. This is a relatively new solemnity with Pope Pius IX declaring this dogma in 1854.
Probably if I asked what are the first words of the Bible, someone would get it right, even if it was just a lucky guess. The Bible starts with the Book of Genesis and the words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” Now if the next question was what are the last words of the Bible I bet there would be a lot of silence. The last book of the Bible is the Book of Revelation and the last words are, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Between In the beginning and Come Lord Jesus is the whole of salvation history, the entire story of our God injecting Himself into time and history. And it is our story, a story of waiting, watching and hoping.
Only 2 weeks left in the year, the liturgical year that is. And every year the readings for these final Sundays are what is called apocalyptic. Readings focused on the end times, the second coming of Christ. The whole idea is be prepared! How? How are we to be prepared? Two thoughts struck me when I read the Gospel: wisdom and waiting.
I’m a little disappointed in my new iPhone 8+. The camera on it is supposed to be better than any previous camera Apple has ever produced. 12 million pixels. That means in every pictures there are 12 million little dots of information, that is how fine, how detailed a picture you can get. Well the first time Nancy took a picture of me I realized that my hair requires somewhere between 15 and 20 million pixels to show up. Anything less and I look bald, a frightening image!
When I looked at today’s readings my first thought was they deal with the difference between doing and saying, sort of like “say what you mean and do what you say.” But how do you preach on that here? You only have to look at the list of ministries this parish is involved in to see that we are doers. Then I remembered that last line in the Gospel, “Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him” and I realized that all three readings really deal with changing our mindset. Think about the recent Gospels; 2 weeks ago we heard about how many times must I forgive? We say 7 and God says 77. Change how we think. Last week every worker in the vineyard gets paid the same. We say unfair, God must be a Democrat! God says be generous in your love. Change how we think. And today Jesus makes it very clear, to enter the Kingdom of God we have to change how we think.