In early September, God sent the messenger, God’s Man, to a town in Galilee called Nowheresville, to a virgin who was engaged to a guy by the name of Joe, who had family connections to the ancient Davidic dynasty. The young woman’s name was Mary. He came to her and said, “Hey there! Aren’t you the lucky one! God’s chosen you.”
Mary was somewhat perplexed by this. She wondered what kind of conversation starts out that way. But then the messenger continued, “Don’t worry, Mary. Really, God likes you. Soon you’re going to get pregnant. It’ll be a boy. Name him Jesus. He’s going to be great. People will call him the “Son of God.” And God will see to it that he inherits the Davidic dynasty. He’ll reign over Jacob’s descendents forever, and his dynasty will be eternal.”
“How so?” Mary asked. “I’m a virgin.”
The messenger said, “God’s breath will breathe into you, and God’s power will surround you. This one to be born will be special. He’ll be called ‘Son of God.’ In her old age your cousin Liz is now pregnant with a baby boy. They all said she was unable to conceive, but now she’s six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.”
So Mary said, “Here I am, at God’s service. Let it be so, since that’s what you say.” And the messenger left.
Within the Biblical writings themselves, there are several other stories of women who have miraculous pregnancies. Sarah and Rachel (Genesis). Hannah (1 Samuel). “A Young Woman” (Isaiah). Elizabeth (Luke). In each case the miraculous nature of the child’s conception is an indicator of the exceptional life the child will lead. And, as I pointed out, in Elizabeth’s case, these stories share this pattern with stories from cultures and peoples around the globe. As such, Mary’s story fits right in. The birth will be miraculous, and the child will be the sign of hope fulfilled.
Mary’s story also fits the pattern of a particular subset of those stories, though, in which the birth is not only miraculous but comes as a result of a god, quite literally, intervening in human affairs. Greek mythology is full of these instances. Hercules. Theseus. Perseus. But the Celts also had their story of the divine-human pregnancy in Cuchulain. This story type forms the background for the divinity of the Egyptian Pharaohs and (more immediately to Luke’s story) to the Roman Emperors, and even to the founding of Rome itself. Again, in each case, the conception and birth stories provide a mythical framework for the child to be superhuman. Even our modern culture has its own instances: Shmi Skywalker claims Anakin Skywalker had no father (a child of “the Force?”).
So what makes this story so special, if it’s not the miraculousness of the birth, or the involvement of a god to get it done?
Two words: Mary’s consent.
Rather than a divine rape (whether carried out by force or deception), Mary is consulted. And she consents. She’s not a tool. She’s a participant. She’s a person. And, even though the ancient dynasty is promised, as it always is in these stories of the divine origins of a nation, the child of hope’s main concern will also be not so much for the reputation of the dynasty as for the human dignity of people who are marginalized, used as objects, and overlooked.
In this respect, emerging as it does from the intersection of two androcentric cultures fixated on domination of the weak, Mary’s story is its own miracle.