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A Miscellany of Sermon Notes and Reflections
have to spin Jesus' brothers and sisters into Joseph's children by a first marriage or some degree of cousin. (If Joseph did, in fact, bring older children from a previous marriage into his household with Mary, that might muddy Jesus' status as first born son.)
If you focus on the fact of "first" rather than the "absence of sex," a very different image emerges. Jesus was the firstborn of God (John 1), and in Colossians 1, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him." Long before Mary, Jesus' was God's virgin birth!
Jesus opened the womb of the universe and he opened the womb of Mary. Virgin and sex are not incompatible. A virgin forest is full of it; it just hasn't been messed up by loggers. The maiden voyage of a ship means only the first time at sea, not that the boat has been somehow "deflowered" or "despoiled." Every woman who gives birth for the very first time is a virgin birth, a maiden voyage into motherhood. Far from avoiding sex, Mary consecrates it. She is a wife whom a man loved but never defiled. For to use sex as an instrument of defilement is to desecrate life itself.
There is never a moment a human life is free of sex. Sex was what made us. Sex is all around us. We are sexual beings whether or not we ever share our bed with anyone. Purity is integrity.
But there's more. Every year, a virgin birth reminds us that God hasn't given up on us. Particularly now, in this time of coronavirus, we are learning to be human in whole new ways. When we at last emerge, it will be into virgin territory, as we re-navigate life for the very first time. God reminds us that we are still highly favored. Let us give to that salutation or own, virgin "yes."
At this very troubled moment in our history, it is easy to feel lost, afraid and confused. Anger bubbles close to the surface. The urge to fight, freeze or flee is not far from me. Why now? Why me? What should I do?
My mind turns to one of my favorite stories, a story which shaped me deeply in my youth, awakening me to wonder and threat and the need to save the forests, namely, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The party is over and Gandalf presents Frodo with a grim new truth:
'Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.’
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'
This year, more than ever, the word "virgin" is jumping out at me from Christmas carols, devotional reading and conversations with friends. Why now, and what does it mean?
Every Christmas, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks a famous pastor, "Do I have to believe in the virgin birth to be Christian?"
Since I am not a famous pastor, consider these words my answer.
We begin with the word "virgin." The androcentric, narrow, bawdy definition is a girl who has yet to "know" a man, and that is certainly the definition that adheres to Mary of Nazareth. Realize that it is only in the Catholic and Orthodox churches that she is required to remain unsullied by sex in perpetuity. Matthew's Gospel only says, "[Joseph] took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus." This means that we Episcopalians don't