Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
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. A number of years ago, our book of choice was a little denser than we normally read at meals, as we read Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin. Mother of God was a heavy read, and as we joked at the time, in the end we 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, Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of Jesus.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that young girl of Nazareth. It is a 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 because it is there that we find Mary’s true vocation, and ours as well, to be the adopted daughters and sons of God.
Isaiah 52:7-10 / Psalm 98 / Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) / John 1:1-14
It’s Christmas Day. I love Christmas – and I love singing at Christmas! Christmas is a time for singing: everyone and everything seems to be singing. Have you noticed when you are in a really good mood, or at a birthday, or you’ve just heard a wonderful piece of news, you want to sing, or ring bells, or jump up and down – you can’t help it – it’s just joy! Particularly at Christmas, the Scriptures are full of singing. Our Psalm today: “Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvelous things – lift up your voice, rejoice and sing.” And not just people, but the whole of creation: “Shout for joy all you lands, lift up your voice, rejoice and sing … let the sea make a noise, let the rivers clap their hands … let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” (Psalm 96) At Christmas, it is as if the whole of creation is singing with joy!
Isaiah 52:7-10/Psalm 98/Hebrews 1:1-4/John 1:1-14
A very good morning to you all, a very good Christmas morning. We are delighted that you have joined us for this festive occasion. This happy morning we join the multitude of the heavenly host in the great proclamation: “…to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and goodwill among all people.” [Luke: 2:11, 14]
I’ve been pondering lately what I’d like to have written on my tombstone. We don’t do epitaphs on tombstones, and I don’t expect to need one any time soon, but if we did and if I did, I think I’ve settled on what I’d like to have, just three words: “He loved well.” He loved well…
1 Peter 1: 10-16; Psalm 98; Mark 10:28-31
The Brothers are just finishing the first stage of an experiment—an experiment in bio-diversity. In the natural world strong ecological systems thrive on a multiplicity of organisms living together, all interdependent and each contributing its unique properties to the vitality of the whole. A similar principle is at work in ecosystems of people: communities thrive on the particular gifts and attributes of a diversity of peoples.
Last September we launched a new initiative here at the Monastery and at Emery House: a Monastic Internship Program—a kind of experiment in monastic bio-diversity. And this Thursday is the last day of this nine month program.
Perhaps you’ve seen some of those Italian Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary with John the Baptist and Jesus as chubby three-year old boys. John is usually wearing a junior version of the camel hair outfit of his wilderness years. Sometimes there’s a little lamb in the scene or John may be holding a staff with a banner that reads “Ecce Agnus Dei”: “Behold the Lamb of God.”
This is a “mash up” of the Luke story about John the Baptist and the Gospel of John’s story. It’s in Luke that we get the suggestion, at least, that John the Baptist and Jesus might have known each other, since their mothers were related. And that they may have played together as little boys. All that is missing in John. It’s in the Gospel of John that John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God”—and that is missing in Luke and the other Gospels.
Memories are a powerful force in the human psyche. They have the ability to trap and imprison, but they have also the ability to liberate and free. They have the power to make one weep in despair or grief and to laugh with the delight of a child. They have the power to shape and mold a life and in hindsight to help make sense of all that was and is, and even is to be. As we all know, it doesn’t take much to trigger a memory: a sound, a taste, a smell, an image, even just a word or phrase and suddenly we are back there as if it were happening this very instant.
I have one such memory that crops up in my mind and heart on a regular basis and it happens many days at Morning Prayer. Had I known it at the time, the event itself was to be a harbinger of things to come. As a memory it continues to delight and console, and even assure me.
Somewhere Oscar Wilde is to have said that we ought not to disparage the legends told about a man, because it’s by them that we have an inkling of his true physiognomy. I’m sure Wilde would have agreed that the same is true for women: that the things that are said about someone—even when not strictly factual—reveal the true contours of a person’s humanity, the sheer force of the personality.
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 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.” 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” 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 ….
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.
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 … 
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.” 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? 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?” 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 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” 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.  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.
 Ephesians 1:5
 Ephesians 1:4
 Collect: Conception of the BVM, FAS p. 371
 John 15:16
 Luke 1:26-27
 Luke 1: 31-32
 John 15:14, 15 “You are my friends if you do what I command you…” “…I have called you friends….”
 Ephesians 1:12
 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,….”
 John 1:14
 Luke 1:28: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”