Monday, January 04, 2016

"Your Very Own Immaculate Conception"

Matthew 1.20 NIV

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”

More things are conceived by the Holy Spirit than one might guess. Not every imagination, new thought, dream, or insight is inspired by the 3rd member of the Trinity, but many are. Immaculate conceptions of these kinds are commonplace with an uncommonly intimate deity like the Most High God.

Conception happens when two (or more) parties come together to form something new. Together, Paul McCartney and John Lennon conceived of some of the greatest new music of the past century. My wife and I came together and conceived some of the greatest new kids on planet earth. Business partners conceive plans that birth new revenues. Readers conceive of new ideas from the authors they follow. An artist may be inspired by a beautiful flower, sunset, or woman. Together the artist and his inspiration conceive an image and bring to life an amazing painting, photograph, sculpture, poem, or song.

Conceptions like these may be miraculous, but not necessarily immaculate. Conception happens when two or more parties come together to form something new. Immaculate conception occurs when God is one of those parties. Admittedly, this is not the proper definition taught by the Catholic Church.  The Roman Catholic doctrine of the ‘Immaculate Conception’ teaches that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. She was, therefore, sinless [1] and uniquely qualified to bring the Messiah into the world.

Since Jesus is God, it therefore follows that Mary may be rightly called the mother of God. But that unique historical calling does not make Mary sinless. The Bible says “there is no distinction; for all [including Mary] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.22-23). Mary, like all humankind, needed the Savior she birthed. She was undoubtedly a wonderful and godly young woman, but human and sinful nonetheless, and in this regard, there is no essential difference between Mary and the rest of us. 

This understanding of is not intended to minimize the Biblical role Mary was chosen to play in drama of God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ. After all, “What [was] conceived in her [was] from the Holy Spirit” and when “the power of the Most High” God overshadowed this girl from Nazareth, she conceived a “holy Child… called the Son of God”, (Luke 1.35). The incarnation was an unspeakably amazing and mysterious, one-of-a kind, historical event. What was “conceived” in this divine-human interaction was nothing less than ‘immaculate’. No wonder Gabriel called Mary “favored one” (Luke 1.28).

The Holy Spirit overshadowed me about 46 years ago when He prompted me to respond in faith to receive the Son of God as my Lord and Savior. My new birth was conceived in me by the power of God who sacrificed His Son for my eternal redemption. It was an immaculate event beginning with an inner awareness of a divine presence only made possible by God Himself. Jesus promised, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18.20). From Spirit inspired encounters with Jesus, love, inspiration, strength, encouragement, power, and joy continue to be immaculately conceived in me.

God has many more immaculate conceptions to bestow. I am in a state of expectation. I hope to discover again today that “what is conceived in [me] is from the Holy Spirit”!
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The painting pictured at the upper left is an oil on canvas entitled "Immaculate Conception" by Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 - 1682) and on display at Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

[1] In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of December 8th, 1854, Pius IX pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

According to The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, retrieved January 4, 2010 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07674d.htm), “the formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her soul. Simultaneously with the exclusion of sin. The state of original sanctity, innocence, and justice, as opposed to original sin, was conferred upon her, by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded.”

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