Chosen by God from the Foundation of the Earth – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38

Those of you who have joined us at one point or another for one of our meals will know that most of the time, on most days, we listen to the reading of a book during the meal. It’s only on Sundays, Tuesdays and some feast days that we share in conversation over the meal. Right now we are reading quite an interesting, and highly amusing biography of Benjamin Franklin, entitled Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. It turns out, as we have discovered, that Franklin was quite an interesting, and highly amusing character. Earlier in the fall our book of choice was a little more esoteric as we read Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin. Mother of God was a heavier read, and as we joked at the time, we now knew more about Mary than she knew about herself! One of the underlying themes of the book was that before she became known as the Mother of God, before she became known as the Queen of Heaven she was simply Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. In essence underlying all the titles and the various devotions that is who she was, and that is who she remains.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that young girl of Nazareth. It is feast not spoken of in scripture but one deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church from ancient times and one which says as much about us, and our life in God as it does about Mary herself and her life in God. So while the focus today is on Mary, we see in her the source and ground of our own life of faith. In looking at Mary we gaze not outwardly, or even upwardly, but inwardly to our own adoption as children of God[1] because it is there that we find Mary’s true vocation, and ours as well, to be the adopted daughters and sons of God.

This feast reminds us that while Mary was chosen for the particular purpose of becoming the mother of God’s son, so too has God chosen “us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before [God] in love.”[2] The choice of Mary was not random, or happenstance. It was particular and eternal. She was chosen and appointed by God “while yet in her mother’s womb to be the Mother of our Lord”[3] In the same way, we too have been chosen by Christ, for Jesus in the Gospel of John reminds us that:

[y]ou did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you
to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last ….[4]

Like Mary we too have been chosen by God from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last for all eternity. Think of it! You have not been chosen randomly, or by happenstance, but particularly and eternally to bear fruit for God.

Mary’s particular vocation from “before the foundation of the world” was to be the mother of Jesus and that vocation continues to unfold with the sound of fluttering wings:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a
town called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named
whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s
name was Mary.[5]

This is no ordinary encounter, but then the message was no ordinary message:

you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you
will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called
the Son of the Most High … [6]

It was a particular and eternal vocation, to be the mother of Jesus, and for a moment eternity stood still while all heaven waited for Mary’s response. We remember Mary’s response to Gabriel throughout the year in various feasts when we remember her life. Here at the monastery we remember that response throughout the day when we pray the Angelus: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it unto me according to your word.”[7] It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary had been created. It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary was made. It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary was appointed and chosen from the foundation of the world. It was that ‘yes’ for which she was prepared while still I her mother’s womb. And it was for that ‘yes’ that all heaven waited for a brief moment in time. For the rest of her life, and indeed for the rest of time, the echoes of that ‘yes’ reverberate as the air vibrated that day in Nazareth to the movement of Gabriel’s wings. It was no easy thing to live with that ‘yes’, but once given it was not taken back. It, like God’s own choice of Mary, was for all eternity.

If the story of that ‘yes’ is Mary’s story, and the story we celebrate tonight, so too is it our story, and so it is our story that we celebrate tonight as well. For like Mary, we too have been chosen by God to bear the Word of God, and to give birth to Word of God in the world. We may not, like Mary, have been asked to give physical birth to God’s son, but as with Mary, we have been asked to bear and carry and give birth to the Word of God. So as with Mary, so with us, eternity stands still while all heaven waits for our answer. What will it be? Will you like Mary say ‘yes’ to God’s choice of you as friend, and disciple and lover?[8] Will you like Mary open the womb of your heart and bear, and carry and give birth to the Incarnate Word of God so that all “might live for the praise of his glory?”[9] Will you like Mary, say “yes”?

We say ‘yes’ to so many things. ‘Yes’ to another piece of dessert. ‘Yes’ to an advertisement or sales pitch. ‘Yes’ to an invitation or a request from a colleague or friend. And sometimes we say ‘yes’ to God. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to God when we hear the wings of an angel. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to the very thing that we were made for. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to the very thing for which we have been destined[10] from all eternity.

When we say ‘yes’ to God, our ‘yes’ echoes that of Mary’s and “the Word [becomes] flesh and [lives] among us”[11] here and now and we, like Mary, become God bearers and our eternal destiny is fulfilled for all time.

Tonight we celebrate, not simply God’s choice of Mary from the foundation of the world to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, but God’s eternal choice of us to be the bearers of that same Word as well. We celebrate not simply Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, but to us as well, for we too are favoured of the Lord. [12] We celebrate not simply Mary’s eternal ‘yes’ but ours as well.

So tonight as you make a womb of your heart and a manger of your hands in which to receive the Son of the Most High, listen for the sound of angel wings beating upon the wind and join your voice to the echo of Mary’s and with her say ‘yes’ to God who has chosen and appointed you from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last.

[1] Ephesians 1:5

[2] Ephesians 1:4

[3] Collect: Conception of the BVM, FAS p. 371

[4] John 15:16

[5] Luke 1:26-27

[6] Luke 1: 31-32

[7] Angelus

[8] John 15:14, 15 “You are my friends if you do what I command you…” “…I have called you friends….”

[9] Ephesians 1:12

[10] Ephesians 1:11 “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,….”

[11] John 1:14

[12] Luke 1:28: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

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  1. Elaine on December 25, 2013 at 00:13

    This reading has enriched my Christmas Eve.

  2. Pam on December 24, 2013 at 09:37

    Phil Drysdale makes an important distinction, borne out in your message: “You are not called to produce fruit. . . . You are called to bear fruit. You are a vessel, not the source.”

  3. Peter Littlefield on December 24, 2013 at 06:37

    God bless you, Br James. Your words go to the very heart. Were all Mary and were all giving birth to Jesus.

  4. CMAC on September 10, 2013 at 09:25

    Always, when I read the word ‘adoption’ applied to us, I struggle against it. I do not think I was ‘adopted’ somewhere along the way. I believe in my inmost being that I was God’s creature from conception and always will be. Since childhood, I have come to know my Maker in more and more ways – that revelation has been a gift given me by my Beloved. CMAC

  5. Christie Olsen on December 8, 2012 at 11:01

    I am so enjoying the daily meditations from all of you. Thank you and blessings ~

  6. Anne Szlivko on December 8, 2012 at 08:11

    This is beautiful!

  7. jane goldring on September 8, 2012 at 14:48

    thanks james for that message which has given me a better understanding of the virgin mary. it didn’t just happen it was our Lords plan. i do think we are here as a child of God and that He has a purpose for each and everyone of us. Whatever you give of yourself you receive back two fold. I believe our Lord does not give us more than we can handle, but is with us every step of the way. jane

  8. Bill Petersen on September 8, 2012 at 09:36

    While not at all denying the citation that forms today’s “Word” as a possibility, I tend rather to find as I focus on Mary a vocation to be with her a “Christ-bearer” in and to the world.

  9. DLa Rue on September 8, 2012 at 07:05

    In actual point of liturgical historical fact, the celebration of the feast was not regularized until the medieval era, and the doctrines associated with it were not officially set forth until the mid-1800s. That doesn’t have to affect how people see or believe the broadly helpful ideas and points of faith made here, but it could help to keep too foggy a mist of romanticized haziness from enshrouding our beliefs and practices about it overall. There is a tendency to want to root the things we care about in a vague, undefined “neant,” especially when it comes to legitimizing or lending credibility to vexed issues in the church; faith can stand up to historical accuracy, or perhaps better put, stand up with it, without needing to do that. I’m not suggesting the homilist here is trying to do that a-purpose, but the topic often draws that kind of misty smile to the questions that surround it.

    And yes, just as the end of the story is, “IsaidyesIsaidyesIsaidyes” in quite another setting, it has the same meaning: saying “yes” to love is an act of faith.

  10. Margo on September 8, 2012 at 06:58

    Thank you. A beauitfully invitation to prayer..

    • Bob on September 10, 2013 at 08:16

      Yes, Br. James, Yes to everything. The pain, the cross, the joy the love, Yes – be it unto me according to your word. And hope that among all the other words is your word or your word has a shadow over all of ours. Yes! Margo

  11. Rev. Bruce Baker on December 9, 2011 at 09:01

    Thank you for these daily “words.” They are choice morsels that feed my heart and mind.
    Thanks for your ministry. I hope to visit someday.


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