Readings for today: Genesis 3:9-15,20, Psalm 98:1-4, Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12, Luke 1:26-38.
Mary, blessed from conception so as to be a pure vessel for Christ; Mary, the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, Theokotos, the Bearer of our Savior, and the Mother of God: pray for us as we ask God for the strength to say "May it be done to me according to Your word".
First Reading: Adam and Eve have fallen prey to the serpent (Satan, Revelation 12:9) and committed sin. With the freedom of will and the freedom of choice comes the potential to choose wrongly, to disobey God, to choose our own wills over His. But God did not strike Adam and Eve dead -- though die they did. Instead, God permitted them to live, and Eve became the mother of all the living (3:20). Found in this reading also is perhaps the first of all prophecies of the coming of a Savior through humanity (3:15): though the serpent shall strike at the heel of Eve's offspring, her offspring shall strike at the serpent's head. This is not some petty fable explaining while snakes crawl and bite ankles, this is the foreshadowing of a man who shall decapitate sin, conquer death, and restore humanity to God.
Second Reading: Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians by proclaiming our selection by God before the foundation of the world. In stark contrast to his grim assertion that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 RSV), Paul writes to the Ephesians of God's desire for us to be holy and without blemish before Him (1:4). We, as Christians, have accepted this call to Christ, which has been "on the table" since before the world began. Mary is a model of this response: she said "yes" to God and accepted the task for which God had prepared her in her mother's womb.
Gospel: While this account from Luke speaks of the Annunciation -- that is, the proclamation to Mary of the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit -- that is not what this solemnity is about, but let us first examine the role of Mary so that we may better understand this holy truth of her immaculate conception. Gabriel, the angelic herald of God, announces to Mary that she is to bear the Son of God, Jesus, a holy child who shall rule the house of Jacob forever, and have an everlasting kingdom. Mary, curious at first, accepts this holy charge. So why does the Catholic Church hold as truth that Mary was conceived without sin?
As the bearer of Jesus (through whom came the new covenant), Mary was the new Ark of the Covenant. The Ark held the stone tablets upon which the Law of the Covenant were inscribed (Exodus 25:16), and with the Ark was stored a jar of manna (Exodus 16:32-34) and the staff of Aaron (Numbers 17:23-25). These three things were prefigurings of Jesus Christ. The Law was from the finger of God (Exodus 31:18) but Jesus is from the mouth of God, for he is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1,14). The manna was sustinence for Israel during the exodus, but those who ate it would perish anyway, while Jesus is the true bread from heaven, the bread of life (John 6:26-60). The rod of Aaron showed upon whom the favor of God rested to be the tribe priests for the Israelites, and Jesus is the eternal priest of the new covenant (Hebrews 5:4-6). The Ark of the Covenant was designed to exacting specifications, and was built from acacia wood and plated entirely with pure gold inside and out. So too, then, the new Ark that bore Jesus was human, but pure inside and out, fit to carry the infant Christ.