Today is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a day when we remember and affirm the idea that Mary was conceived without sin. As a convert, this doctrine did not always make sense to me, but came to life for me in a new way years ago when a friend of mine shared what it meant to him. He said that what this meant to him was the Mary had perfect parents in Anne and Joachim. He had lost his parents in an accident as a young man, and the idea for him was that someone in the world once had a kind of ideal love and passed this love down, through the ages to Mary and to Jesus, a love that also was given to him.
A more traditional theological interpretation places the causation in the other way; it is because Jesus is free from sin that his mom also would be. Even before he is born, his life somehow infuses and informs all of hers.
Either way, I think it is a beautiful way to think about the Immaculate Conception, as a feast about how love gets passed on, person to person. When we experience love from another human being, whether a parent, friend, spouse, adult child, mentor, or even stranger, we tend to be built up in ways that also encourages us to be more loving towards others.
In the Gospel reading of the Annunciation, Mary’s response to the angel gives us a little more detail about what Love looks like. First, the angel tells her not to be afraid, and Mary gives her life to God without fear. Concretely, this also means giving her life to other human beings without fear: her son, her husband Joseph, who himself has to listen to the Lord and live with courage in loving Mary and Jesus, in unconventional circumstances (and much later the apostles when Jesus ascends but Mary remains behind). Second, Mary trusts in God, believing that “nothing is impossible” for God. Her many travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to the flight to Egypt, and the internal “ponderings” of her heart, as recounted across the different gospel accounts, give a picture of someone who walks a very winding road with the Lord. But Mary acts courageously and trustingly, in following God one step at a time.
Our walk with the Lord in Advent can be like this, too: trusting in God’s lead, a step at a time, with courage and with generous love.