The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Homily for December 8, 2010: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Last Sunday, I had the great privilege of celebrating the sacrament of baptism here in the church – baptizing 12 babies. Before the service, I was chatting with a couple of women. They were friends of one of the families and they had never been to this church before. They couldn’t get over the stained glass windows, and one of the women asked me if they were done by Tiffany.


I laughed and told them no.

Well, one of the women said, “We’re Jewish, from up in Orange County, and we just don’t have anything like these. They’re just magnificent.”

Well, she’s right. They are magnificent. But she was wrong about something else. The Jewish people do have something as beautiful as these windows – in fact, we share with them something even more wondrous.

I’m speaking of Mary – the Jewish peasant girl whose feast we celebrate today.

No window here can compare to Mary, who served as God’s window into the world.

Thomas Merton put it perfectly.

“Mary”, he wrote “was as pure as the glass of a very clean window that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun.” And he explained: “If we rejoice in that light, we implicitly praise the cleanness of the window.”


I can’t think of a more beautiful way of considering Mary on this feast of the Immaculate Conception. Looking around this church, named for our Blessed Mother, we see the light these windows cast, the ever-changing colors, and we see, too, the ever-deepening reminders of Mary’s devotion. The golden light of a mother’s love…the blue of her sorrow…the red of her son’s own passion. But through it all there is light. Radiant, limitless, streaming light.

The light of the world.

And Mary is the window through which that light shines.

This feast is one of the more misunderstood in the Church – a lot of people think that because it is close to Christmas, it must be about the conception of Jesus. But no. It marks Mary being conceived in her own mother’s womb – conceived without original sin, spotless, immaculate, so that she could one day welcome into her own womb the son of God.


Beyond biology, though, there is a wonderful symmetry in this feast falling during Advent.

Just last Sunday, we heard John the Baptist crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

And that is exactly what God did with the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

This moment, her creation in her mother’s womb, is God’s own Advent – the Father preparing the way for His son by preparing a perfect vessel, Mary, to bring His son into an imperfect world.

God really is “preparing the way of the Lord.”

And how does Mary herself prepare? What is her Advent?

When Gabriel announces his incredible news in Luke’s gospel, her reaction isn’t just meek submission. She doubts. She questions. She challenges the angel. And only when her curiosity is satisfied does she give her assent.


“May it be done to me according to your word.

Mary’s Advent is one of wonder – and extraordinary trust.

All of us in one way or another, at one time or another, feel the confusion and even fear that Mary must have felt. That phone call we didn’t want, the letter we never expected, the diagnosis no test could predict. Faced with that, we challenge God, and demand answers.

But it all comes down to one phrase – the one that, I think, convinces Mary and that changes the course of history.

“Nothing is impossible with God.”

All arguments after that are fruitless. Doubt vanishes. Reason submits. Faith surrenders. There is simply nothing else to be said.


Here in Advent, we gaze out at the darkening skies. We are almost at the moment when our hemisphere is furthest from the sun.

But along comes Mary. The curtains are drawn back. The light pours in. Pure, perfect light.

We may wonder and we may doubt. We may be apprehensive about what lies ahead. But Mary, in her simple perfection, offers us something more than purity, more than saintliness. In our own confused time – like that window letting in the light – she offers us clarity – the clarity of an angel’s assurance to a worried young girl. It is an assurance to our own worried world.

Nothing is impossible with God.

This Advent, may all of us hold onto that – and as Christmas nears, may all of us truly see the light.

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posted December 8, 2010 at 8:03 am

Beautiful! Now when I see a stained glass window, I will always remember this homily and see more than a window.

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posted December 8, 2010 at 8:25 am

The light of the world is Jesus.
When the wine is superb, does one admire the bottle?
As a Christian who is not Roman Catholic, I do not understand the need for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The next step has to be declaring Mary’s parents immaculate, and their parents, and theirs, all the way back, I suppose, to Adam. But that can’t be right.
But the women from Orange County are right: the window is magnificent.

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posted December 8, 2010 at 9:15 am

Deacon Kandra,
I agree with Patty. Absolutely beautiful homily.
God made Adam without ‘the bottle’. After all, nothing is impossible with God. Perhaps, one should at least ponder WHY he choose to do it differently this time. Perhaps ‘the bottle’ is not just a vessel?

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Edgar R. Schneider

posted December 8, 2010 at 9:20 am

There is one non-Christian religion that teaches Mary’s Immaculate Conception: Islam. See the Quran 3:42.

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posted December 8, 2010 at 9:37 am

My very learned Muslim friends like to say, that there is ‘but a thread’ that separates true Islam from Christianity. Jesus’ mother is held in very high esteem by all of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam. That adds up to about 3 billion believers!

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posted December 8, 2010 at 11:03 am

Deacon Greg –this is a beautiful homily. I was just standing in my kitchen at the sunny window waiting for my coffee to be ready and I felt a chill — you know the shiver you get when the sun pouring through warms you? I remarked to my son how I love that feeling. Full of expectation and delight. And then I read your homily. So apropos. Thank you!

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posted December 8, 2010 at 11:26 am

When the wine is superb, does one admire the bottle?
Actually Bob, we Catholics liken Mary to the tabernacle of the Most High (the Ark of the Covenant) as God would not choose to dwell in an impure vessel, which leads us to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

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posted December 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm

@ TOM ,
4 very ” unbiblical ” ides about MARY.
She came in sinless / She lived sinlessly /
She lived as a virgin / Upon death was ascended or assumed into Heaven.
Was it 1854 when POPE PIOUS IX issued this famous : BULLEFFABILUS ?
JOHN 1:9 : ” The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world ”

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posted December 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Like all metaphors this one has a point but also limps a little. Why? Because a window is just passive, and Mary was involved as a MOTHER on every level so that God could be incarnate on earth. She was not used passively like glass, but involved as a person and mother.
Remember the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not mean that Mary is not a creature or that she did not need to be redeemed but that she was redeemed in a unique way to be the Mother of the New Adam.
Perhaps we can say a mirror is a better image for her? Her response, her openness and faithfulness were so complete that now she is the image of all the redeemed. She shows the fullness of God’s grace when as God’s church we will all be holy and immaculate in his sight (from the 2nd reading for today).
In a few days we celebrate the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in her image we see a perfect mirror of the church. She is the beloved of the Father, pregnant with the word of life, clothed with sun and moon of the glory to come (Christ in you, your hope of glory) yet she is a humble one, her hands folded in prayer to the true God and she carries the cries of all the poor ones close to her heart. There is the Immaculate one, and her image is a mirror held up to the church that says:
“O Church of Christ see who you are, now become who you see so his light, love and life will shine evermore.”

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Dana MacKenzie

posted December 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Actually, when the wine is superb, I DO want to see the bottle, and I want to learn more about the winemaker.
She is the New Eve, to Jesus’ New Adam. Yes, it really does go all the way back to the beginning. And it’s a mystery. Not sure why non-Catholics have such a hard time accepting that no matter how well we know scripture, we cannot know it all.

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posted December 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm

if the wine is that great i would want to taste the grape and meet the wine maker!

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posted December 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

One thing that I would like to add Dana that most people don’t think about especialy those who don’t believe or say that things like Jim’s list aren’t Biblical…
If we believe in the Bible and do our absolute best to adhere to God’s Word, then there are times in we are writing our own book, chapter, and verse. We just don’t get it put in the canon.
Does/did the Father STOP revealing Himself to us after Scripture was written?
Peace to all

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posted December 8, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Bottom line JIM, we love Mary the Mother of God as Jesus asked us to. No where in church teaching does it state that we worship her. If she was good enough for God than she should be good enough for us.

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