God says uncomfortable things. He uses words we’d prefer he didn’t. Where we would be delicate or euphemistic, God blurts things out.
Here in Luke, for example, he grabs one of those words we prefer not using: “virgin.” Sure, we’ll confess it in the Creed, but outside of that it’s one of those awkward, verging on dirty, words. We don’t like to talk about virgins and virginity. It’s uncomfortable to think about being a virgin. It forces us to think sexually. Our society especially despises this word. Virgin has the ring of naïve, weak, nerdy, dorky. We go out of our way to avoid the word, and, sad to say, to lose the title so we don’t have to be one.
But God shouts the word in this text: “Virgin! Virgin! Virgin! Hey, we’ve got a virgin over here!” Okay, okay, Luke only uses it twice; but twice is once more than he has to. First he tells us of a virgin engaged to be married to Joseph. Ok, fine. Then, he says, “The virgin’s name was Mary.” Gee-whiz, enough already, we know she’s a virgin. Even Mary uses a euphemism. She didn’t call herself a virgin in verse 34, she says, “How will this be, since I am not knowing a man?” Since she’s engaged to Joseph we know she doesn’t mean, “I’ve never met a boy.” She means: “I’m a virgin.”
But God exalts this estate that we’re not proud of: singleness, virginity, chastity, celibacy. He honors it, not in the way the pope does, the pope who turns celibacy and virginity into some super-vocation, some saintly task achieved heroically by priests and nuns and others. Rather, God honors this estate of virginity by making it the vessel for his Son. A virgin conceives and gives birth to a son, the Savior of the world, making true Paul’s later words, “Women will be saved through childbearing.”
Now God goes from one awkward state to another: from virginity to out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Another thing we cover up. Rightly so; such a condition assumes sin. As Joseph did. He almost divorced Mary for adultery. Until God said, “It’s okay. This is from the Holy Spirit. She hasn’t dishonored you or marriage. Marry her.” But any thinking man can do math and realize that Jesus’ conception pre-dates the wedding. Now both Joseph and Mary come in for ridicule.
Yet look throughout Jesus’ family tree. It gets even more awkward. You could single out bigamous Abraham and polygamous Jacob. In that corner, drunken Noah slops all over sin-originating Adam. Over there we see street-walking Rahab and Solomon, the man with a thousand wives. Next to him sits sleeping-around Bathsheba with murdering David.
Does this awkwardness never end? From virgins to shotgun weddings to sons of adultery to drunken revelry to the original sin itself. It’s all over Jesus’ family tree. And ours too. We’ve got plenty of skeletons in our closet, plenty of crazy uncles, sinful aunts, wandering children and, don’t forget, at the top of the sin chain, sinner numero uno: you and I.
Couldn’t God have worked out something else, something less awkward, less open to ridicule? He favors this? I mean, those are Gabriel’s words, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” More, “The Lord is with you!” With a pregnant virgin, a yet-to-be married pregnant virgin? Doesn’t God see how bad this looks, how foolish this looks, how sin approving this appears?
Yet God powers through. God favors Mary not because of her virginity, not because she was sinless, not because of her, her favor comes from his grace. He has no sinless tools to use. We ruined that long ago. So he works with what he has. He uses the ruin of our sin to provide salvation.
So Gabriel says, “I want you to know you’ve got God’s favor, lady.” No wonder these words flabbergasted her. She racked her brains and couldn’t come up with any explanation for them. Irony? Mockery? Mistake?
Yet she draws the right conclusion. She doesn’t assume he means “You will have a son with Joseph when you get married and start having sex.” She assumes he means, “Right now.” She makes herself a slave to the word of God. “May it be to me according to your word.” That’s hard. We want to influence things. We want to hear God and say, “Well, sure, but…” We hear awkward things and work to shift them or move them around to our liking. Mary says, “Ok.” She enslaves herself to God and his Word.
Because of what his Word is and does. Nothing God speaks can’t come to pass. He’s the Most High. Either he can do it, or he’s not God. No word God speaks is weak or unable or lacking strength. He speaks; it’s done. This is how God operates among us. He preaches among us. He speaks and does the unspeakable. Virgins bear the Son of the Most High. Adulterers, drunkards, murderers, thieves, cheats, that’s what some of you were, but now, by God’s Word, washed clean Christians.
Because of what God does to a virgin. The Holy Spirit comes upon her and now we have the Son of David, the Son of the Most High, Jesus, who will save his people from their sins. This one, this conceived out of wedlock, born of a virgin one will be great, big, mega! Of the Most-High!
Forever. Not until God finds a better vehicle or plan, but forever, giving us an exegesis of every Old Testament prophecy ever. The prophets speak not about Israel’s borders and worldly kingdoms, but about this child, this conceived out of wedlock son of a virgin, this one who will save his people from their sins, for he is God with us. Who does one more awkward and comfortable thing. On the cross he becomes God for us. Then this Son of a virgin cheats death as he cheated normal means of conception. He establishes his foreverness by rising from the dead, this virgin born Son of the Most High, the one even more highly favored than his mother, the one who, as his name says, brings God’s favor to us, as God brings God to us. Amen.