Luke 1: 26b-28 (The Message)
“God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.'”
Annunciation, by Leonardo Da Vinci, circa 1475
The artworks which fill our memories as we read the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, it must be noted again, are all from the post-Constantinian period (312 C.E.). After the declaration by Emperor Constantine that Christianity would heretofore be the official religion of the (now) Holy Roman Empire, all paintings would subsequently depict the institutional and divinely ordained Romantic nature of the biblical narratives, as approved by solemnly nodding church and state collusionaries.
So, let us concentrate, as we will throughout this Christmas Series (which I am tempted to call a Holiday series, just to rankle those who are easily rankled), on the text that I think gives a feel for the pre-Constantine, politically incorrect language used by the earliest Christians . I’m using the text of Eugene Peterson’s The Message to do that.*
Let’s, in these first paragraphs, deal with the camel that is always in the tent: Mary’s virginity. Here’s my immediate take on it: I doubt she was a virgin within the intact-hymen definition of virginity. I think real, verifiable virginity would have been the kind of BIG DEAL that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul would have all written about in CAPITAL LETTERS, and at length. Yet, only Matthew and Luke mention virginity. Mark, who is generally regarded as the earliest gospel writer and John, regarded as the latest, didn’t mention it at all. The actual birth story of Jesus played no part in the story these two gospel writers told, nor in any of the even earlier letters written by Paul. The Matthean and Lukan narratives seem (IMHO) to mention the virginity of Mary as a means of ingratiating themselves to the particular audiences to whom they were writing.
Now I know that’s a deal-breaker for some. Those preachers and teachers who have Jesus enclosed in a perfectly sized, dogmatically-wrapped container will not/cannot accept the gospels of Mark and John as the stand-alone gospels they were for many decades for many many of the first followers of The Way. C’est la vie (you’ll see that phrase often from me. It means “Don’t bother arguing with me about it. I don’t care.”) There’s too much cool stuff, big stuff, enlightening, transcending, and revolutionary stuff to say about Jesus to get hung up on whether or not the sheets of Mary and Joseph’s connubial bed were bloody. Jesus was the son of God and the son of man exactly as we are all the children of God and the children of men and women. That’s flat out exciting to me and that is an excitement I hope I am capable of sharing in the coming weeks.
(For the record, just so those who need to know will know, I am not a complete heathen! I do not believe in the virgin birth of any of these well known personages either: Alexander the Great, Zoroaster, Perseus, Kabir, Buddha, Horus, Quirrnus, or Adonis. )
Mary- kissed by the morning sun, embraced by the divinity she felt warm against her skin. Mary- beautiful inside and out, a cradle for the Christ. Mary- God is with her. Perhaps it was that she was unusually unaffected by the human selfishness, shame, or guilt that can bend too many young woman so severely. Perhaps she was able to see clearly beyond the regrets of yesterday or the anxieties of tomorrow that violate the innocence of mindful and present living. Perhaps it was that purity and grace, that tenderness and simplicity that enabled Mary to love first the one who would teach generations about real love, true love.
Let’s follow her for awhile, starting tomorrow.
*I don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek and am not about, at the age of 60, to begin learning those languages. Let’s assume (correctly) that for some years after the story of Jesus happened (however-it-did in fact happen), that it was passed along verbally before being written down by the many various gospel writers. It would have been told in its essentials in a conversational way. The Message does that, too. It is not a perfect translation, but we don’t have one one of those anywhere, in any language. So The Message will do for these musings, because I say so.