The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 1:26-38, the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary. I believe what we routinely affirm in the creeds, that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary” (Apostles’ Creed)—that he “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” (Nicene Creed). Still, I’m also well aware that only Matthew and Luke among New Testament writers mention Mary’s virginity.
For many, that’s a problem. For me, my faith doesn’t stand or fall on whether or not Mary was a virgin. As I say, I believe the creeds, but either way, I wouldn't see it diminishing the honor the angel pays her with the announcement, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (v. 28).
Some say the idea of a virgin birth came from Greek mythology. There are a number of biblical concepts that have been borrowed from other cultures. Others say Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. Clearly, one of the sad facts of life during a military occupation is the rape of local women and girls.
Our local PBS station carries the Worldfocus news broadcast at 6pm on weeknights. (After watching that, it’s interesting to see how inward looking the other nightly news shows at 6:30 are!) Last night, they presented a story of a depressingly familiar reality, rape as a weapon of war. The focus was on eastern Congo, over which various armed factions have been fighting for a decade. Several countries are involved in what’s been called “Africa’s world war.”
What if Jesus actually were the result of such a violent conception? I don’t think such an occurrence would have to be true, but if it were, how much more could all the violated women and girls through history be able to identify with Mary?
The image is "The Annunciation" by Brigid Marlin.