God wants us to hear and know his plan of love, and to share it.
Saint John Paul II concluded each of his 14 papal encyclicals with a prayer or invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Paul VI and other pontiffs had concluded encyclical letters by appealing to Our Lady on occasion, but John Paul II made it his regular practice to look to Mary. Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have continued this to some fashion in their own right.
Advent, like a papal encyclical composed by St. John Paul II, ends on a Marian turn. Having considered for weeks now God’s ancient promises as spoken through the prophets, the Church turns to meditate on the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The First to Hear the Gospel
The story of Christian redemption begins in Genesis. The wrongness, the inequity, and injustice of the world have a cause. That cause is sin. Christians believe our first parents turned away from God and his plan of love, and in so doing opened the floodgates of suffering and pain, which are now part and parcel of life.
Our merciful God did not, however, condemn us to sin and sorrow. From these first moments of hubris, God embraced Adam and Eve and announced his plan to save their sons and daughters. God declares to the serpent, the so-named forces of evil in Genesis,
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel. (Genesis 3:15)
This verse is called the protoevangelium, the first announcement, the first promise of salvation. God promised Eve a descendant, a messiah, who would come to save. This one would crush the head of the serpent.
The Virgin Mary, the daughter of Eve, is the first to hear that this promise has come to fulfillment. The angel Gabriel brings that happy news, telling Our Blessed Lady, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The name Jesus means “God saves.” Here the Virgin Mary is coming to see the unfolding of God’s ancient plans before her very eyes. Eve remains the mother of all the living, but the Virgin Mary, cooperating with God’s grace, brings new life to the world.
In the fourth century, St. Ephrem would describe this great mystery this way:
So Eve the Mother of all living became the well-spring of death to all living. But Mary budded forth, a new shoot from Eve the ancient vine; and new life dwelt in her, that when Death should come confidently after his custom to feed upon mortal fruits, the life that is slayer of death might be stored up [therein] against him…
Through the Virgin Mary all humanity is restored. True life, the life of grace, the life of redemption, the life of love and union with God, is brought to all mankind through the Blessed Mother. She was the first to hear this Gospel message fulfilled.
The First to Share the Gospel
But like any disciple filled with an encounter with God’s abundant mercy, the Virgin Mary could not keep her experience of divine love to herself. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us, “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40). By accepting God’s invitation to become the mother of the savior, Mary literally becomes the God-bearer. She is the chosen vessel who carries God to all.
Upon arriving at Elizabeth’s house she learns of Elizabeth’s own miraculous conception of a child and rejoices with her at the extraordinary goodness of God. This first sharing of the Gospel, the first time Christ is brought to another is marked by joy, celebration, and peace. Mary remained in that place with Elizabeth for three months, resting in the work of the Lord at hand.
Our God desires that we share in him. From of old he incorporates us into his plan of salvation, that we might be sharers in the reconciliation of all things by his grace. The wrongness of the ancient sin is restored, corrected, redeemed by our participation in his providential designs.
Meditating on this mystery of faith, St. Augustine writes,
Not the visible sun, but the invisible Creator of the sun has consecrated this [Christmas] day on which the Virgin, a true but inviolate Mother, gave birth to Him who became visible for our sake and by whom she herself was created.
Ponder these Things
Not only does our God want us to hear and know his plan of love, he wants us to share it. The Virgin Mary is the perfect model of discipleship, having from the first moments of the miraculous conception of Jesus, known and contemplated this saving mystery.
These great mysteries are mysteries not because they are delusional or inscrutable. They are mysteries because they are worthy of our delight and consideration. Like the Virgin Mary who ponders these great workings of God, let us turn our minds and hearts to the work of contemplating the mystery of our salvation. After all: what other God has so loved all humanity?