Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sermon Discussion: Born of the Virgin Mary

Date: for sermon of October 19, 2008
Text: Luke 1:25ff

Rather than speculate about how a virgin birth could or could not happen, or defend God's capacity to perform miracles, our focus will be on placing the significance of the virgin birth (and I believe it was a literal virgin birth) in its historical context to understand some of the significance for the early church.

It's important to understand that the virgin birth is the culmination of a long line of unlikely births occuring among god's chosen people. Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in their old age. Isaac and Rebekka praying for a child and received Jacob and Esau. Jacob's favorit wife, Rachel, was barren for many years while his 'lesser' wife was fruitful. There are several other stories in the Old Testament that carry this same theme: God is the source of fruitfulness. The fullest expression of this truth is seen in the Holy Spirit coming upon the Mary the virgin so that she becomes preganant and gives birth to Jesus, for there is no greater assurance of an empty womb than virginity!

The meaning of these things for us has to do with our call to be fruitful as the bride of Christ, allowing His life to so fill us that we become not only recipients of His life, but so that we allow that life to be born into the world through us. Giving birth is where the greatest sacrifice and greatest blessings meet - and it because of the sacrifice that some resist receiving and imparting life.

1. What are some of the costs that came to Mary because of the timing and manner of her pregnancy? What are some of the costs that came to her by virtue of being Jesus' mother?
2. In spite of all the costs and challenges, Mary's response is one of trust and availability, resulting in her outpouring of praise for the privilege of being chosen to carry Christ's life. Why do you think she saw her out of wedlock pregnancy as a gift from God, rather than a bother? What in her attitude is instructive for us today?
3. Name a time when the presence of Jesus in your life has been disruptive. What was your initial response? Why?
4. In what area of life are you longing for God's fruit to be seen? Is there an area where you're resisting, hesitant to allow Christ's birth for fear of what it will mean? Pray for one another about these things.


At 15/10/08 23:45, Blogger postcall said...

I wonder why the literal virgin birth was viewed by the early church as such a critical tenant of their faith. Had Jesus been the product of sexual intercourse, would it have diminished the story of his life, or prevented him from being who he was?

At 16/10/08 11:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know much about how the early church viewed the birth of Jesus, but I assume it has something to do with the view that Jesus was the "perfect sacrifice" and ransomed us from all of our sins. If he had been from sexual union, would that have made him less perfect? Some seem to think so.

But isn't the whole imagery of ransom as a model for salvation a bit anti-trinitarian? It seems as though once you start asking the question "to whom is the ransom being paid?" you start running into problems. If you say it's being paid to God, it makes it sound like Jesus was not actually God. If you say it's being paid to Satan, that runs you into a whole other host of problems.

In other words, it seems like by avoiding this weird ransom/sacrificial imagery that is so popular in hymns from the 1950s, you can also avoid a lot of theological misunderstandings.

At 16/10/08 15:19, Anonymous ptr said...

It seems to me that the early church, as well as every orthodox element of the Church since then, holds fast to the virgin birth because of their belief in the fundamental nature of who Christ is: the God/Man.

While the notion of man and God being united in one form seems incomprehensible, I think our current insights into genetic inheritance can help make this idea come alive. At least it does for me.

If we think back to high school sex ed class, we remember that within the nucleus of our cells, women have one XX pair of sex chromosomes while men have one XY pair. During the reproductive process, if a male child is conceived, the Y chromosome that makes it a male could have only come from the father. Interestingly, during the recombination phase of this process (where the chromosomes from both parents are split and combined), the Y chromosome does not mix together with the female's X. Because of this, all of the genetic information that is contained within that Y chromosome is left unchanged.

When applied to the virgin conception of Christ, perhaps Christ's essence is expressed down to his very genetic language. Perhaps, Mary supplied the chromosomes that gave Christ his human genetic qualities while the Holy Spirit supplied those that gave him the divine?

Luke 1:35: The Holy Spirit will come upon you [Mary], and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.


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