In the 1990’s the campus of the high school I attended began to look a little shabby and careworn. The school had maintained its involvement in the local community, and the students remained very involved in extra-curricular activities. The school Administration continued to emphasize academic excellence, but the landscaping on campus had deteriorated badly. I think, in fact, it was the Administration’s attention to academic excellence that detracted from attention to the physical plant.
Eventually, a new President was assigned to the school. One of the first acts of the new President was to clean up the campus, replant the landscaping and generally improve the appearance of the place. Those few aesthetic improvements made all the difference in the world. As soon as the students, parents and alumni saw the physical improvements to campus they became very enthusiastic about extending the improvements to include new classroom space, new sports facilities and refurbished buildings.
Quite obviously, there is more to life than appearances, but appearances matter. I read a commentary on today’s Scripture readings that said the reason for the Immaculate Conception was to provide an appropriate environment for the birth and growth of the Savior. That commentary reminded me of the value of physical appearance.
I’m certain that it would have been possible for the Savior to be born to an ordinary woman, and raised in an ordinary household. After all, today’s Gospel reading says, “nothing will be impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37) While many diverse family situations would have been possibilities for the birth and growth of the Savior, it was appropriate for the Savior to be born of, and raised by, a mother who was free of the burden of Original Sin.
The appropriateness of Mary’s Immaculate Conception speaks directly to the situation of us who are disciples of the Savior. Just as it was appropriate for the Savior’s mother to be free from sin, it is appropriate for each us to create a local environment that reflects faith in Jesus.
There are many possible ways for us to live. There are many possible ways for God to lead us to faith. Among all the possibilities, there is one thing that is appropriate. It is appropriate for our thoughts, words and actions to have the appearance of faith in Jesus as Savior. Obviously, it is necessary for us to do more than attend to mere appearance, but it is appropriate that what we claim to believe is manifest in our local environment. There’s more to life than appearance, but appearances matter.