Our conception shapes us for the whole of our life on earth. Whether at one end of the scale it was the result of a loving union between a married couple who are deeply in love or at the other end, a violent stranger rape, the circumstances of our very being make a difference to who we are.

So it was with both Mary and Jesus. Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin – the Immaculate Conception – which infects the rest of humanity. Jesus was freely conceived to a virgin, through the power of the Holy Spirit who filled both their lives from that moment.

The next nine months of gestation also impact on our future being. Mary had to face rejection from her community who failed to recognise the signs whilst her cousin Elizabeth greeted the Mother of the Messiah with love. Mary underwent an horrendous journey on the back of a donkey in order for Joseph to register at Bethlehem where on their arrival they were met with rejection and nowhere for Mary to give birth. This journey pre-figured the last journey of Jesus on the road to Calvary, carrying his own cross, alone and deserted by his friends. Only Mary and the apostle John stood nearby at this dreadful moment.

Our parents are our first teachers and for Jesus this was no exception. Mary and Joseph taught Jesus his faith and no doubt Jesus spent some time as an apprentice in his father’s workshop as well as time in the Temple going about his heavenly Father’s business.

All these experiences, from conception onwards, were to shape his teaching, his love of the poor and marginalised and ultimately the manner of his death. From death he spent three days in the tomb, ‘descended into hell’ as the Apostles’ Creed exhorts and then overcame sin and death to prepare the way for the whole of humanity before taking his place at the right hand of the Father in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This of course is what our own life is about. God wants us to share in his glory as his sons and daughters, but in order to do that, we have to be conceived by an earthly mother, born into this world which is simply the womb in which we are prepared and refined like gold before we are born again through our death to take up those places earned for us by Jesus at the everlasting supper of the Lamb.

The meaning of life therefore is to become Sons of God.