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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Behold, the virgin shall conceive . . .

This prophecy occurs in Isaiah 7, the passage in today's lectionary.  And both Matthew and Luke make a clear connection between Mary and this passage.  But I think we've lost sight of the reason this is important, when we see Mary with the halo, as if she was uniquely worthy of motherhood, and we immediately dismiss her with an emotional distance and irrelevance.
Look again.  A virgin, pregnant.  Paradox, juxtaposition, the impossible possible.  Something from nothing.  Creation.  Grace.

The point is to show God's power, God's action, God's presence in the story.  To show that the rescue is coming from outside human endeavor and will, to show there is another dimension of reality that we do not control.  To show that the humble and unlikely are chosen to bear the gift of world-transforming love.

Mary should give us all hope, that any of us can be the means of grace in a world gone awry.  Her state of virginity is to make the entire story one of grace.

So it is worse than ironic that the retelling of the story somehow turns her status into a subtle, or not-so-subtle message, that God is looking for the (quote-unquote) holy and pure to deserve blessing.  It is bordering on blasphemous if her virginity becomes a message of "be like this to enter the Kingdom." One need only read the rest of the beginning of the Gospels.  There is a list of the genealogy of Jesus, and besides Mary, four other women are noted.  Not one of them was a virgin before the relationship that resulted in the all-important human lineage that led to the Messiah.  Two were widows who took initiative to pretty much seduce their male redeemer-relative in order to get pregnant.  One was a prostitute by profession, who jumped sides when the Israelites started their invasion.  And one was an adulteress.  So it would be hard to extrapolate from that data that God chooses women-who-have-kept-the-rules to be key participants in the redemption plan.

One would conclude, rather, that God likes to shake up expectations, and do the unexpected.  Hence, the virgin shall conceive.

Christmas has been coopted by rules, which is the opposite of the point.  Mary should make us catch our breath in wonder, not that she was such a perfect young woman, but that God can do anything.  Behold, I make all things new. To see the way our human bent to turn grace into law is so insidious and powerful, consider even St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, who started off giving gifts to poor children.  He should be a beautiful symbol of God's merciful generosity.  Instead, as our youngest pointed out listening to music playing at dinner last night, we miss the entire point with the "making a list and checking it twice, going to find out who's naughty and nice."  NO!

Christmas is grace, pure and simple.  Which is truly good news, for all of us.

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