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Tragically beautiful ‘Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls’. Icon written on the separation wall near the Bethlehem checkpoint by Ian Knowles of the Bethlehem Icon School.

When does an ordinary life become extraordinary? A mundane day become revolutionary? A moment in time change history? When God enters in, Forgives sin, Allows us to begin again. When we repeat Those words of Mary ‘May it be to me As you say’

John Birch

Today in the Church's Calendar we celebrate the Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception of The Blessed Virgin Mary. That's a bit of a mouthful for a simple dogma! Many folk confuse the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth - the latter being to do with Jesus having an earthly mother, but a heavenly Father.

Catholic Christians celebrate this day the lengths to which God would go to prepare the means by which His Son would be brought into the world. A sinless incarnate Son, to be born of an immaculate mother - that's the dogma. Not all Catholics have held this view, including one of the most Catholic of theologians, Thomas Aquinas. As an ever-so-slightly-protestant Catholic in the Anglican Church, I like to think that Mary is capable of sin, but that she is the first Christian amongst all Christians, she who carried Jesus and has shown Him to the world ever since.

Mary, close to her Son as any Mother is - Mary, ever praying for the world her Son came to turn-around - Mary, willing to pray with you and me for whatever we ask.

Mary of Nazareth, daughter of Joachim and Anna, is first mentioned by name in the Gospel of Matthew. She was an ordinary woman, and her name was common enough that other women of the same name in the gospel had to be distinguished by their relatives or their place of origin.

From tradition we can assume that she grew up as a young Jewish girl in a small town in the Palestinian Galilee. Since Mary was born into Judaism, she experienced the Hebrew Scriptures both in her prayer and her mode of life as a woman of Nazareth. Mary's education as a girl included listening to the readings of the Torah and the Prophets in the synagogue. We cannot know for sure, but it is quite possible that Mary knew how to read. Although women were seated separately from men during the synagogue services, they could have learned the prayers and listened attentively to the readings from the Sacred Scripture. …

There is no reason to question that Mary was present in the synagogue when Jesus read from Isaiah 61. Would she not have reflected on such passages already, wondering about their Messianic implications? (I have come to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners)

It might be helpful to recall that until the completion of her eleventh year a Jewish girl was a minor and from her twelfth birthday on she was considered to be of age. This means that from that day on, Mary was expected to keep those parts of the Torah, which were binding on women. At the same time she also became eligible for marriage.

Like all good Jewish girls, she would have been obedient to her parents’ wishes. Thus, when she was of marriageable age, about fourteen, and her parents promised her to a man many years her elder, she accepted their decision - she had no choice. Consequently, we can presume that it was around that time that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. The time of betrothal generally lasted a year, with the exception of widows. We know that the Annunciation occurred during the phase of her betrothal.

Almighty and everlasting God, you stooped to raise fallen humanity through the child-bearing of blessed Mary: grant that we, who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature and your love made perfect in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image. Artwork by Janet McKenzie


My soul glorifies the Lord,

My Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

For he has blessed me lavishly,

and makes me ready to respond.

He shatters my little world

and lets me be poor before him.

He takes from me all my plans

and gives me more than I can hope for or ask.

He gives me opportunities, and the ability

to become free, and burst through my boundaries.

He gives the strength to be daring,

to build on him alone, for he shows himself

as the ever-greater one in my life.

He has made this known to me:

it is in my being servant that it becomes possible

for God’s Kingdom to break through, here and now.


Upturned world, the bankers humbled,

politicians brought to book,

children show new ways of living,

heads will spin and turn to look.

Mary sang, exultant virgin,

birth would change her life and ours,

generations watch with wonder,

shaken like wealth’s shining towers.

When the prison gates are broken,

when the poor can feast and dine,

then Magnificat is bringing

age of justice and new wine.

Wine of joy and celebration,

end of hunger, God is near,

time of endless new beginnings,

birth of Jesus, end of fear.

Copyright © Andrew Pratt

Kathleen Norris' observations

in her work "God with us"

"Mary utters a song so powerful

that its meaning still resonates

in profound and disturbing ways.

In the twentieth and twenty-first century Mary's "Magnificat" has become a cornerstone of liberation theology, so much so that during the 1980's the government of Guatemala found its message so subversive

that it banned its recitation in public worship.

The Magnificat reminds us that what we most value,

all that gives us status –

power, pride, strength and wealth –

can be a barrier to receiving what God has in store for us.

If we have it all, or think we can buy it all,

there will be no Christmas for us.

If we are full of ourselves,

there will be no room for God to enter our hearts at Christmas.

Mary's prayer of praise, like many of the psalms,

calls us to consider our true condition:

God is God, and we are the creatures God formed out of earth.

The nations are but nations,

and even the power of a mighty army cannot save us.

We all return to dust.

And if we hope to rise in God's new creation,

where love and justice will reign triumphant,

our responsibility, here and now, is to reject

the temptation to employ power and force and oppression

against those weaker than ourselves.

We honour the Incarnation best

by honouring God's image in all people,

and seeking to make this world into a place

of welcome for the Prince of Peace."

What kinds of wonderfully subversive actions

will you undertake to celebrate Christmas this year?

William Barclay, the 20th century Scottish theologian, talks of the Magnificat as “a bombshell”,

but says that people have read it and heard it so often that they have forgotten its “revolutionary terror.”

It takes “the standards of the world and turns them upside down. The Church needs such leaven of discontent, and the Magnificat makes the church restive against poverty and wretchedness.”

In the Magnificat, Jesus is coming on to the world-scene to proclaim

a startling new way of living.

The least are the greatest.

The greatest will have to take the role of a lowly servant.

The “religious” will find themselves excluded from the heavenly banquet

while sinners will be welcomed with joy.

In this perplexing realm of God, the Magnificat,

in common with much of Jesus’ teaching in Luke,

tells out loudly and clearly how the world is to be turned upside down

or perhaps more accurately, right side up!

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

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