Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Nativity of the Virgin

Almighty and everlasting God, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost didst prepare the body and soul of the Virgin-Mother Mary to be a dwelling-place for thy Son; Grant that we who rejoice with her in Jesus may ourselves be kept unspotted from the world, and made a pure temple for his dwelling, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, now and evermore. Amen.

Though not a Scriptural feast or one found in our Prayer Book, today’s commemoration of the birth of the mother of Our Lord recounts an obviously historical event and has a long history in the Church (East and West). It forms part of a cycle of feasts attested to by ancient authorities, but not found in the Bible (and thus, for Anglicans, not "required teaching," however there is nothing in these ancient commemorations that is counter to the New Testament's teaching).

The above Collect for this day focuses on the purity of Mary, building on the ancient belief that she was in some way purified by the Holy Spirit of all Original/Ancestral Sin. This understanding allowed God the Son to take flesh without contact with human sin.

[Interestingly, this belief was widely held in Classical Anglicanism, without the least sense that it was overtly “Roman” in character; see Bishop Pearson’s 17th century commentary on the Apostles’ Creed.] The popularization of this particular feast in the Medieval period was greatly assisted by one St. Fulbert of Chartres; I’ve sometime wondered if my family came from a common background with this 11th century teacher, preacher, and reformer.

What strikes me most about this feast, though, is the focus on God’s loving, caring preparation. Mary is prepared long before the fact to receive the Christ-child – yet she is free to say “no” to her calling at each step. God prepares us for our calling through gifts of skill and capacity, yet we are free at each moment to reject that calling. What freedom we are given! What degree of thoughtful preparation God takes with us! What risks our loving God runs with each one of us!

I am also reminded by this feast that each of us, like Our Lady, is a temple called to receive the Lord. While she is uniquely blessed in how that vocation was lived out, we are each of us no less called to “bear” Christ into the world in our own way. We are once again recalled to the fact that our minds, our bodies, our wills are to be holy places of worship and encounter, where (as Psalm 29 puts it) all is crying in unison "Glory!"

Once more, the Church’s memory recalls us to the eternal Now of God’s presence and our discipleship.

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