No Christmas Without Mary
based on Luke 1:39-55
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
Luke most likely heard the story of the annunciation from Mary herself (Mary
is identified as one of the witnesses Luke had interviewed for the writing of
his gospel). It is her "calling story."
As outrageous as we would think a statement like this would be in today's
world, as outrageous it must have been back then.
Sometimes, we have this sense about the New Testament era that everything was
different. We romanticize it in our minds; to us it was a mythical time of
miracles, a time when God talked with people directly, when angels delivered
messages and when the world was so much more innocent from today. Give me that
old time religion!
Realistically speaking, however, the New Testament times were not so
different from our times. When Mary had the encounter with Mr. Gabriel it was
just as hard for people to believe her story as it would be today.
One indication that Mary's story of God's spirit impregnating her was hard to
believe back then was Joseph's initial reaction: he decided to leave Mary.
So here is Mary telling everyone that she got pregnant, not the "traditional
way," but because by the Holy Spirit of God conceived a child within her. And
that child was to be the Messiah—the Savior of the whole world. Half God, half
The world was not entirely unfamiliar with such a scenario; there were
examples from other religions-extraordinary men like Hercules-that had been
conceived from a union between a god and a mortal woman.
As a progressive theologian, I have to admit that I, too, have a hard time
understanding Mary's story of how her son Jesus was conceived. I personally
don't need to believe in the virgin conception to appreciate the magnitude of
God's gift to the world in the form of Jesus. In fact, I think of it as even
more remarkable that God chose a Messiah coming from the humblest of beginnings,
born out of wedlock into a situation of poverty and human hardship.
But I do recognize that there is something about Mary's story and about her
song that makes me want to hang on to Luke's claims of a virgin conception
First of all, if a person were to try to cover up an act of infidelity, they
would probably not come up with a story like this. Mary's story has so many
outrageous claims in them that it actually sounds like she really believed it.
Why would anybody make up such a tall tale. People do make up stories to cover
up mistakes, but they will tell tales that are more realistic and believable. In
Mary's case, she could have claimed that it was Joseph's child, or perhaps, that
she was raped as she traveled to her relatives.
For Mary to claim she had been favored by God to bear the Child of God is so
incredible that it actually might be...credible.
Secondly, whatever you believe about Mary, she was a remarkably brave teenage
mother. She stood up for her belief and told the whole world! You have got to
admire that kind of conviction and courage. Even when it looked like Joseph was
leaving her, she stood by her belief. She was ready to be a single teenage
mother at a time when such a thing was outrageous. She proclaimed the good news
of the Messiah, before he was even born. She didn't care what others thought of
her or how they treated her. She knew what she had seen and heard and that was
I wish I had this kind of conviction and zeal. I think we can all learn from
Mary. God has called me too. But when was the last time I shared my calling
story? I don't even remember. When was the last time I made a faith claim in
front of colleagues at work or friends at the football game. When did I last
profess my faith in God; when did I last admitted to someone that I believe in
the possibility of miracles, answered prayers and divine healing?
Mary was not unlike the man in Jesus parable who found the great treasure in
the field while digging in a field. When he happened upon a big treasure he went
and sold everything to buy that piece of land on which he found the treasure.
Some argue that she didn't really have a choice in the matter, but if you go
on what Luke shares, Mary actually embraced the gift of the Godchild within her.
God does not force any gifts on us; God does not force Godself on us. In the
verse before our passage, Luke makes it clear that Mary could have rejected
God's offer. After the prophecy was given by the angel she responded: "May your
word to me be fulfilled." (Luke 1:38)
Mary needed to accept this calling, just like any of us need to accept God's
calling. And God's calling always comes at the cost of giving up some of our
comforts, plans and dreams. But Mary did not only say yes to that treasure she
found, she made it the center piece of her life.
Third, and most notably, Mary doesn't only embrace her calling to make it the
center piece of her life, she understands herself as being blessed beyond
measure. The song by singing this song, now known as the Magnificat, or the Song
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for
he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now
on all generations will call me blessed... (Luke 1:46-48)
The Song of Mary is one of eight ancient Christian hymns preserved in the New
Testament and is the oldest Christmas song.
What a sense of joy, Mary expresses in this Song-a deep appreciation for
God's intention to bless the world through this child, even save it like in
ancient times. What sense of personal blessing she expresses to be chosen to be
a part of this extraordinary gift. She believes that she will be remembered
blessed in the history books forever. She was right so far. 2000 years later she
is revered and remembered by more than 1 billion Christian believers in the
Is it any wonder that Jesus ended up being the prophet he turned out to be? I
imagine his mother had a lot to do with his extraordinary sense of destiny to
proclaim the good news to the captive, the oppressed and the poor. Or let me put
it this way: would Jesus ever have reached his full potential had his not been
there to instill this faith and sense of calling in him?
Let's face it: not only did Mary give us the first Christmas song, without
her there' would be no Christmas.
May God give us the courage of Mary to go out and share our faith with the
whole world, sharing about God's amazing grace and salvation-his program of
peace and justice for the world. And may we see in our children what Mary saw in
hers (let's not forget that at least one other son of hers, James, became the
bishop of Jerusalem). May we instill into our children a sense that God sent
them into this world to bless humanity and to do a significant part to save it
in the name of God. Amen!