Quick - What does the Immaculate Conception celebrate? Often, the answers are "when Jesus was conceived." But, if Jesus is conceived on December 8, how can he be born on December 25?
That's an easy way to use common sense to figure out the Immaculate Conception is not about Jesus' conception but is about his mother's. (The historical accuracy of Jesus' birth, at this point, is a discussion for another time.)
December 8th is about reminding us that Mary was conceived in the usual manner, but without original sin. She was created as Eve was, in a state before sin entered the world. However, that didn't make life easier for Mary. Just as Eve was tempted and fell, certainly Mary must have been tempted, most likely frequently and often. It is truly a wonder that she was able to avoid sinning in every area - in her thoughts, her words, and in her actions - both in what she did and did not do. Just think about that for a moment. How did Mary possibly manage to not sin her entire life? How did she know what to say? How did she guard her thoughts at every moment? What wisdom and insight she had to know when to act, "to go in haste" to attend to her cousin Elizabeth, for example, and when to remain passive and inactive. Obviously, one of the gifts of not having original sin is the gift of mental clarity.
Down through the years, many symbols have been connected to Mary, such as the moon, which reflects the light of the sun, roses, symbolizing the hardships and triumph of the spiritual life, and the unicorn. In fact, great tapestries were stitched in the Middle Ages showing the unicorn in fruitful, beautiful gardens. The unicorn was a very well-known, even common symbol for Mary. It represented her purity and chastity, yes, but it also represented something else. The horn on the unicorn's head represented the focal point of her soul - Mary's intense, overwhelming desire to follow the will of God. It was this deep, abiding, even passionate love for God that differentiates Mary from Eve.
In Scripture, Eve's response to the serpent is pretty blasé; she doesn't seem particularly concerned about hurting God. Maybe this is because Eve, until she ate the apple, had no understanding of the realities of sin so she couldn't really grasp the consequences of what would happen. Mary, on the other hand, did. Mary was born and raised in a world full of sin. She was very well aware of the consequences of sin, and she lived every moment of her life determined not to add to the pain and brokenness all around, but to be a conduit of God's grace and healing instead.
For this day, then, the Magnificent Unicorn ornament is a fitting tribute to Mary, the Mother of God, and a fruitful symbol for us to think about more seriously. The mane and tail of the unicorn are pink and purple, the colors of Advent, and the yellow bows reflect a hint of the hope and glory of the high holy days yet to come in the Christmas season, when churches are dressed in white and gold, reflecting the glory of the Lord. As we approach Christmas, we can ask ourselves "What is the goal I live my life around?" We all have one. Let's ask Mary to help us become doorways to God, and to imitate the beauty and determination of the unicorn.
This blog page is a slightly different type of Advent calendar. Using ornaments, Scripture and poetry for reflection, we journey through the 28 days of Advent 2022 to Christmas morning, and the Incarnation of Christ.