We are almost to the Annunciation when an angel came and gave a Jewish woman a choice, she said “yes” to God’s will and so became the Mother of God. For me the Feast of Annunciation begins the countdown to Christmas. It may still be as hot as Houston in Houston, but December is coming.**
Gabriel, God’s angelic messenger, told Mary that she was going to have a son and Mary was bewildered. She wanted a child, but she had never known a man. People in ancient times were not foolish: no sex, no baby. Gabriel said this was going to be different and the New Testament writer pointed back to the Hebrew Bible and said:
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
This is a reference to Isaiah 7:14.
My brave interlocutor M* is skeptical. He asks:
- The only prophecy in the Hebrew Bible that arguably has anything to do with a Virgin Birth is from Isaiah, but that “prophecy” on its face seems to have little to do with a future messiah. Moreover, the word used for “Virgin” is young woman, not virgin. Given that the Virgin Birth of Jesus is such an important belief to Christianity as the entire notion of the trinity seems to rest on it, don’t you think God would have had chosen the virgin birth of the Messiah/God incarnate to be spelled out pretty well in the Hebrew Bible?
Biblical prophecy is not Divination Class at Hogwarts.
Biblical prophecy is generally not fortune telling, but finding the patterns of history. One way we know God has created is that He is telling a story, often poetic, sometimes musical. One reason that some fiction seems true to us and other fiction false is that the fiction that follows the patterns of history, God’s plan, carries with it a reality that other fiction lacks. One theme of Scripture is simple: women keep having children miraculously and letting us know in times of trouble God is With Us (Emanuel!).
The Gospel writer points to one such time when a King of Judah refused to ask for a sign from God and so God gave that wicked King a sign: a young girl in his harem would have a crown prince for Judah. By the time he was a boy, God already would have delivered Judah. That wasn’t the first time this happened, a woman conceiving and having a son that was an Emanuel.
Eve had a son, Seth, and knew God had not abandoned her after Cain killed Abel. Sarah laughed as an old woman when God told her she would have the heir of the promise, but she bore a son and Isaac showed God was with her. Samson’s mother got the news that she was going to have a deliverer for Israel from an angel. Hannah cried out to God for a son and God gave her Samuel. She thanked God in words that the Virgin Mary would echo.
Assume that M* is right and the Hebrew in Isaiah (or the Greek in the Septuagint) is just “young woman” and not virgin. Assume that in context the story has nothing directly to do with the coming of the Messiah. Granted all that, the account in Isaiah has everything to do with the coming of Jesus.
It is one more story of a woman conceiving a Savior in an unexpected way. Mary is the ultimate case: she is the woman who knew no man and still had a God With Us boy. She is the culmination of all the stories and the first of all the virgins who conceive and have children. Mary is the full reality of what God was revealing through the lives of Eve, Sarah, and that young woman in Isaiah. She is the clearest image in the Divine Comedy that God is writing.
She is the Mother of God, but the image keeps working. Mary makes it possible for all of us to be mothers of God in our community.*** If we come to God in spiritual purity, we can conceive and have spiritual children. Church history is full of accounts of women who echo Mary: unable to have children, praying to God, and being given either through adoption or natural birth a child who becomes God with us: Mona for Augustine, Silvia gave us Gregory, and Emilia raised Basil and Gregory.
M* would ruin the Christmas surprise: the Hebrew Bible builds to Jesus so that while one could not know what was going to happen exactly (Mary, an actual virgin, will have the Son of God) when it happened it was part of the theme. God balances free will, His ultimate will, and His themes together. The timing is variable, the persons can change, but God’s truth is repeated until we see.
Christmas is coming and like last year will be like the last time, but also a surprise!
*M is a non-Christian that sent me 55 questions earlier this year. He has asked that I not reveal his or her name. I will write as if “he” is a male, but this is for convenience. I do not know if I will get to all his questions. I try to limit my answers to hundreds and not thousands of words. Here are questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 44, 46, 47, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, and 55.
**It will still be hot, but less hot.
***As Pastor George once said: “If my wife can be a brother in Christ, then I can be the Bride of Christ.”
****Women also have daughters that are God with us, of course!