Kathleen Norris writes:
I once heard a Protestant clergywoman say to an ecumenical assembly, “We all know there was no Virgin Birth. Mary was just an unwed, pregnant teenager, and God told her it was okay. That’s the message we need to give girls today, that God loves them, and forget all this nonsense about a Virgin Birth.” … I happened to be sitting between some Russian Orthodox, who were offended theologically, and black Baptists, whose sense of theological affront was mixed with social concern. They were not at all pleased to hear a well-educated, middle-class white woman say that what we need to tell pregnant teenagers is, “It’s okay.”
I realized that my own anger at the woman’s arrogance had deep personal roots. I was taken back to my teenage years, when the “de-mythologizing” of Christianity that I had encountered in a misguided study of modern theology had led me to conclude that there was little in religion for me. In the classroom, at least, it seemed that anything in the Bible that didn’t stand up to reason, that we couldn’t explain, was primitive, infantile, ripe for discarding. So I took all my longing for the sacred, for mystery, into the realm of poetry, and found a place for myself there. Now, more than thirty years later, I sat in a room full of Christians and thought, My God, they’re still at it, still trying to leach every bit of mystery out of this religion, still substituting the most trite language imaginable. You’re okay, the boy you screwed when you were both too drunk to stand is okay, all God choose to say about it is, it’s okay.
The job of any preacher, it seems to me, is not to dismiss the Annunciation because it doesn’t appeal to modern prejudices but to remind congregations of why it might still be an important story. … It is only when we stop idolizing the illusion of our control over the events of life and recognize our poverty that we become virgin in the sense that Merton means. Adolescents tend to be better at this than grown-ups, because they are continually told that they don’t know enough, and they lack the means to hide behind professional credentials. The whole world confirms to them that they are indeed poor, regrettably laboring through what is called “the awkward age.” …
We all need to be told that God loves us, and the mystery of the Annunciation reveals an aspect of that love. But it also suggests that our response to this love is critical. … Mary’s “How can this be?” is a simpler response than Zechariah’s, and also more profound. She does not lose her voice but finds it. Like any of the prophets, she asserts herself before God saying, “Here am I.” There is no arrogance, however, but only holy fear and wonder. Mary proceeds — as we must do in life — making our commitment without knowing much about what it will entail or where it will lead. I treasure the story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Do I ask of it what it cannot answer? Shrugging, do I retreat into facile cliches, the popular but false wisdom of what “we all know”? Or am I a virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a “yes” that will change me forever? — Kathleen Norris (1947- , American Novelist). “The Annunciation,” from Amazing Grace. Riverhead books, an imprint of Penguin group (USA), Inc., 1998. Quoted in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007, p.44-53.
Father, Grant me grace to be “virgin,” to say yes as you speak to me (and your people). Forgive me for when I have sought to appear to have it all under control and hidden behind professional credentials, vocational titles, affiliations, ministry/life experiences, etc. Cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
Here am I.
Send me, use me — even among a people who have ears, but do not hear AND eyes, but do not see.
Enable hearing and seeing to occur this Advent/Christmas as we worship the coming of your Son with our “head, heart, and hands” throughout our whole life, including our campus life.
More Resources for Advent: As Mike mentioned in Repost: Bobby Gross: Living the Christian Year, I have written about Advent and practicing a Christ-Centered Christmas. In addition, I have been blessed by and encourage others (including you) to take time to visit Christine Sine’s Godspace series on Advent and the Advent Conspiracy. Note: My 2010 Godspace post is Second Wednesday of Advent – A Family “Advent”-ure by Thomas Grosh. For ESN’s developing Advent collection click here.
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!
Michael Stell says
Thanks for posting this. It brings to mind something I have been thinking about lately in regard to Mary. I think as Protestants we have lost something of the wonder of the virgin birth, partly because we have lost something of the wonder of Mary’s fiat. While I would not advocate veneration of Mary, I wonder if we should at least hold her in the same regard that we do a Paul for instance. While it is certainly true that Paul is the teacher of the Church in his apostolic authority, Mary’s role and prominence in the NT is often over-looked. We need to revive the practice that is advocated in the Gospel of Luke – we should join with all generations and call her blessed. Blessed not because of her yes, but what her yes has done for us in her son, the incarnate son of God. Because of the Blessed Mary, mother of God, we in turn are blessed as well through her son, Jesus. Let us not diminish (or embellish) her role and importance in the Christmas season.