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Thinking About Mary

December 17, 2014

This past Sunday our Pastor spoke about the virgin birth of Jesus.  To the surprise of nobody in the congregation he asserted the truth of that belief.  Equally unsurprising, nobody in the congregation got in a huff and walked out.  I’m pretty sure that, for us at least, this was not an issue of contention; we already believed in the virgin birth.

Having said that, we are all probably aware that, for many, believing in the virgin birth can seem like believing in a fairy tale and not anything anyone would believe who actually uses human reason and hangs out with other reasonable people.  And we are OK with that too.

To us this is an issue of confession, not proof.  We say “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…” not as a declaration of fact but as a confession of faith.  For most evangelicals the virgin birth is a miracle of God’s free grace that tells us that the beginning of Christ’s story matches its ending–supernatural intervention, divine initiative, salvation, and we don’t feel compelled to prove it to you.

Alas, there have been several layers of controversy that have been piled on the Virgin Mary.  Most evangelical pastors are a little leery of her.  As a result she is either ignored or trotted out at Christmas almost as if she was nothing more than a decoration in the manger scene.  If we mention her at all it is usually accompanied by a long list of things we don’t believe about Mary.  We end up saying to other Christians things like “Yes, we believe with you that she was a virgin but no, we don’t believe that she was born without sin.”

Most of us have in our heads a list of things you have to intellectually assent to in order to really be a Christian.  I am not sure that it is all that important to include the virgin birth on that list.  If you have trouble buying it, fine.  You are still welcome to sit in our church and share our faith.

Now, let me share why I don’t believe that Mary was born without sin.  It is not that this is not mentioned specifically in the Bible.  Evangelicals believe all sorts of things that are not mentioned in the Bible.  The pre-tribulation rapture comes to mind.  I don’t believe it because it doesn’t match what I believe about God and his salvation message.

For many Mary is a symbol of virginal purity.  This requires that, unlike other women, Mary was born without sin. This implies that God could never choose to make the womb of an actual woman the home of our Savior because we know that actual women are sinful temptresses.  No, Mary had to be a special one-time-only woman who was really, really different than all the other women out there. And it was her really, really differentness from actual women that earned her God’s favor.  This sounds like so much woman-hating nonsense, not God.

The miracle of the virgin birth is not that God created some super-special woman to bring his Son into the world.  It is that God used an ordinary, albeit courageous and faithful, young woman to give ordinary people like you and me the gift of his love and grace.  It tells us all that we too are loved by God and have the privilege of saying “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”


From → Christianity

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