So today is the Feast of the Annunciation: the announcement from the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Christ-child. The moment in the story in which Mary sings what we now call the Magnificat; the great twist in the tale of the Sacred’s manifestation in the world.
A lot of people have trouble with the story of the Annunciation – myself included. Why should I, as a rational person of the twenty-first century, find meaning in a story of such blatant sexism and impossibility? The Virgin, for all she’s actually a pretty gutsy girl (when you have a moment, read the Magnificat. It turns the whole world on its head, especially when you consider it as coming from the lips of an unmarried young female, speaking from the poverty and anxiety of occupied first-century Palestine) is seen as little more than a passive receptacle for the (male) Holy Spirit to make a baby. Some homilies on the topic to which I’ve been subjected paint the whole sordid little incident as nothing more than divine rape. And what an image of womanhood to which, I’ve been told, I’m meant to aspire: yes, she’s open to the miracle of the workings of the Divine, as much as the menfolk of her day – and that in and of itself is radical, the sense that a woman can be as much an agent of God as a man. But really – the model of womanhood is both a virgin and a mother. An impossibility who has long been used – against, I venture to say, the will of the Sacred Creator of all people – as an unmeasurable standard before which 49-odd per cent of the world’s citizens fall.
Of course, the answer to all of the above is that the story of the Annunciation was written in, and for, a different world. A world in which it simply wasn’t understood that a biological mother contributes fifty per cent of her DNA to offspring: creation is not simply the act of a biological father. A world in which it was barely understood that women were people at all: the idea that a woman had the capacity not only to contribute to the unfolding of the manifestation of the Sacred, but to be pivotal to it, would have shocked early readers to their core. It would have challenged the elite in their self-contained monopoly on holiness. The idea of God being nurtured, and utterly dependant, on a woman – truly, in this story God scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts, and lifts up the lowly.
The Creator of the universe will be born of woman, nurtured by a cookolded man who made the most righteous choice. In nine months’ time we will celebrate the radical eruption of the Divine into the minutiae of everyday life, the miracle in the mundane, the fundamental presence of the Source of life in the dark and lightness of our lives. But tonight I celebrate this story, this biological impossibility and feminist conundrum: this small, unnoticed second-class citizen in a poverty-stricken, occupied land a thousand years ago, who had the guts to say yes to God and started a divine revolution.