Toorak Uniting Church

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Carol Service

Luke 1: 26 – 38
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
21 December 2008

The annunciation story is one of my favourite stories. Not only because there is a woman featuring in the lead roll or because there are angels involved (I love angels!) but because it is all so very unlikely.
And that of course is the whole point of the story - and of all of Luke’s birth story: That it is so incredibly unlikely, especially because none of the other sources, none of the other gospels, tell us anything about a virgin, or shepherds, or a stable.

Now don’t be alarmed. Saying that the story is unlikely does not mean that there is no truth in it. There is in fact, I hope, a lot of truth in it. Because if there isn’t we would lose something that has given hope and direction to peoples lives ever since the story was written, but especially since it was popularised through drama’s enacting scenes from the life of Christ in the Middle Ages.

Was Mary a Virgin or not? As I have explained earlier this year when I preached on the Apostles Creed it is not quite as simple as yes or no. The word used in Greek is a word that would most accurately translates as "young maiden". The text from Isaiah Luke connects his story to here also talks about a "maiden". Technically speaking, in our sense of the word, I guess, this does not necessarily mean Mary was a virgin, but does not necessarily preclude it either. She could or could not have been.
But that is not the point.

Luke could not have cared less you see, because, even being a doctor, he would not have known about conception what we do and understood it in a completely different way. The way he would have thought about it was that male essence, very much as the dominant force, planting itself in a woman’s womb it had selected. He may have guessed sex had something to do with it, but how it exactly happened was at that time in history a mystery.

So when Luke writes his story about the annunciation down, the physical state of Mary did most certainly not come into what he wanted to talk about. It was something altogether different he was focussing on.

What Luke wanted to talk about is where Jesus’ origins lay.
There is a maiden. There are angels, shepherds, and a stable surrounded by darkness. And there is an emperor who plays God and wreaks havoc with the lives of his subjects. And then there is Joseph, who in the story of Luke does not play a prominent roll at all. He contrasts with other males in the story in that he is soft, adjusting, trusting, and caring.

It is a story of sharp contrast anyway. The young maiden who conceives a kernel of the divine that will grow into a burning flame changing the world forever versus a mighty emperor who tries with all his might to bring that world under his control and bend it to his will. The helpless babe born into a world of chaos and darkness versus Augustus, the greatest emperor who had ever lived, born to gold and riches, said to have been conceived of a god himself.

This is a story of God against god, of maiden against men of power, of a baby against the powers that be. And the moral of the story is of course that God wins, that the maiden wins, that the babe grows up to be greater than the emperor Augustus, prince of peace, god from god.

The story of the annunciation tells us that at the root for Jesus the male essence is not "of the essence", that it is the accepting, surrendering love of a maiden that brings him into the world and not the stamping boots and weaponry of the powerful of the day. That at the root of what Jesus was, lies not the human condition but the divine seeding the human condition with hope, with peace, with joy, with something way beyond what we could conceive or imagine if it had to come from us. There are angels involved. And if you think about it I am sure you’ll understand that Luke was right: There is no way the world would bring forth someone like Jesus on its own. Something must have crept in from another realm, something must have found its way into our lives from another place where love comes natural and pain and brokenness have no part to play.

All Luke says with his story is that he can’t understand who and what Jesus was in any other way. That he must have come from a place other than the darkness and chaos of evil at work where babies find their way into a world that is cold and inhospitable. And that it was not the high and mighty, but the unlikely maiden Mary who gave birth to that miracle. Implying that if she could, we can too. It is not the high and mighty powers of the day, then or now, who give birth to the divine in our midst. It is through those who open themselves to the unlikely seeking to find its way into their lives who will give birth to the divine that will bring love, peace and healing to the world. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2008

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