T A

A pregnant pause

As Mary makes her weary way to Bethlehem the Christ within her is about to face one of the most dangerous moments of his existence. For both mother and child the journey from womb to outside world in first century Palestine comes with a high mortality risk; their fates entwined together, either might kill the other.

St Luke gives few insights into the unborn Christ, telling us briefly of how John the Baptist, himself yet unborn, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary visits. But that account, taken with the story of Gabriel’s visit, is enough to establish that the Son of God did not take on human form at any point later than conception. It’s not a point I’ve heard dwelt on by preachers and theologians, and liturgically it all gets lost in the joy of Christmas when we gaze in awe at the infant in the manger, yet the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy matter.

The Early Fathers had a knock down argument for the necessity of the incarnation; “What has not been assumed (by God) has not been saved”, they stated. The salvation of humanity could only be accomplished, and was fully accomplished, by true God becoming truly human. Christ became first a single vital cell, then a rapidly dividing clump of cells, then embryo and foetus. Just as the creed affirms that at Easter Christ descends to hell to save the dead, so, in these nine hidden months God works the salvation of the many that will never see the light of day: the miscarried; the aborted; the stillborn.

At the same time he himself is being fashioned both by God and Mary. A recent academic study found that human metabolism is fixed before birth, so that, inter alia, mothers who diet during pregnancy are more likely to have children with a lifelong tendency to obesity. How Mary has lived during these nine vital months will affect, indeed quite literally shape, her son for the whole of his life. She is no passive incubator of the divine child but fully part of his formation. He shares not just her genes but the consequences of her actions. We, who share her flesh, are both active in the drama of salvation and shapers of the living Christ that is revealed to the world.

In little over a couple of days the full joy of Christmas will be upon us; for today the task is to pause, and be with Mary in her pregnancy, and all that it means for us.

26
Leave a Reply

avatar
26 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
14 Comment authors
Ford elmsPluralistmynsterpreost (=David Rowett)Father Ron SmithBillyD Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Cynthia Gilliatt
Guest
Cynthia Gilliatt

The wonderful writer of speculative fiction, Connie Willis, has a fine short story about the journey to Bethlehem. The setting is a 20th c church during choir rehearsal and general chaos of getting ready for Christmas. The protagonist, a harried choir member {I think – read it a while back] finds a raggedy young couple at the back door. She thinks they are homeless people who missed the evening bus pickup to take people to the shelter. The woman is visibly pregnant. They have no English … and you’ve guessed it – they are on the way to Bethlehem, which… Read more »

Viriato da Silva
Guest
Viriato da Silva

“St Luke gives few insights into the unborn Christ, telling us briefly of how John the Baptist, himself yet unborn, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary visits. But that account, taken with the story of Gabriel’s visit, is enough to establish that the Son of God did not take on human form at any point later than conception.” This conclusion regarding conception does not necessarily follow as a matter of logic. Assuming this event is even *literally* true, and not simply meant as metaphor instead of some sort of scientific statement, all one can be certain of is that Jesus… Read more »

peterpi
Guest
peterpi

Mr. Walker engages in an anachronism – I think deliberately – when writing about the Nativity stories. The writers of the Gospels did not know of sperm, egg, cell division, metabolism, chromosomes, DNA. Reproduction was understood to be the male implanting “seed” in the female womb, which was seen as akin to soil. It’s no accident that the English language refers to a woman’s ability to carry out reproduction as either “fertile” or “barren”. Those are agricultural terms. The male provided the totality of the reproductive force. Modern science states that all developing fetuses start out female, then the Y… Read more »

Rev. Lois Keen
Guest

I didn’t read in this post what Viriato da Silva read. I read that Jesus was fully human, growing from a single cell which divided etc., just as we each did, and therefore from the first instant subject to all the perils of being human, including the possibility that the pregnancy could spontaneously abort (sometimes called miscarriage) or be stillborn, or die in utero, or at birth, or the pregnancy at anytime result in the death of the mother. I read David Walker saying that to fully participate in our humanity this child of God had to be at risk… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

I’m told by some to be mythological about all this kind of material, but it’s not just that I find this so unlikely, it is superfluous. There really is a departure here, and the more I encounter material like this the less I want anything to do with it.

Simon Kershaw
Guest

peterpi: “Mr. Walker engages…”. Er, that’s “Bishop Walker”, if you please.

Viriato da Silva
Guest
Viriato da Silva

“Just as the creed affirms that at Easter Christ descends to hell to save the dead, so, in these nine hidden months God works the salvation of the many that will never see the light of day: the miscarried; the aborted; the stillborn.” Rev. LK, if Bp. DW didn’t intend the reading I give him, I too should like to know it. But including the reference above to “the aborted” presumably needing salvation, and indeed too the miscarried and stillborn, this passage, taken in combination with the one I cited regarding the Lukan account being “…enough to establish that the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

“In that time, Mary may have been a whole-heartedly willing participant, but she was seen as a receptacle, no more and no less. And an imperfect one at that. One that had to be perfected at her conception.” – Viriato da Silva – ‘No more, no less? Except, of course, that Mary was God’s chosen vessel (imperfect though she was)the one whom God had already determined would be the Mother of God’s ‘Only- begotten Son. Mary’s honorific title among the Orthodox is that of Theotokos, or God-Bearer. This, surely, makes her pretty special as the unique prototype of all bearers… Read more »

Malcolm+
Guest

“She is no passive incubator of the divine child but fully part of his formation.”

She is, as they say, the Mother of God.

Malcolm+
Guest

“Mr. Walker engages in an anachronism – I think deliberately – when writing about the Nativity stories. “The writers of the Gospels did not know of sperm, egg, cell division, metabolism, chromosomes, DNA. Reproduction was understood to be the male implanting “seed” in the female womb, which was seen as akin to soil. It’s no accident that the English language refers to a woman’s ability to carry out reproduction as either “fertile” or “barren”. Those are agricultural terms. The male provided the totality of the reproductive force.” Yet from very early on, the Church has spoken about the Logos taking… Read more »

peterpi
Guest
peterpi

Simon Kershaw, I meant no disrespect to Bishop Walker. But I see nothing in the Thinking Anglicans article to indicate that +David Walker was a Bishop. I would certainly have referred to him as such if I had known. I know that in these posts, a “+” indicates Bishop, “++” indicates Archbishop. My humble apologies to Bishop Walker and all here present.

David Walker
Guest
David Walker

Thanks all for the comments, which suggest a few words of explanation may help. This piece began with the research finding that maternal behaviour during pregnancy affects the physiology of the child. It added to my sense of Mary as “co-worker” in the story of salvation, and hence through her to you and me as co-workers with Christ. Such is not to claim equality with Christ but is what St Paul speaks of as “completing” Christ’s work in our own bodies. I used that in a homily to our ordinands at the Eucharist before their Christmas lunch. It felt especially… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

Well my view is we have no idea about Jesus’s upbringing, never mind what happened in the womb. We do not have the information as to how the man came to meet John the Baptist. We have the flow of ideas and political/religious culture that engaged them and framed the missions, followers and service. We don’t talk about how Lenin or Gandhi existed in the womb, and I have not heard it regarding Buddha. This is all mythology, like whether God was ‘first time lucky’, and this is supposed to be an expression of reasonable Christianity. It’s why other academic… Read more »

mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest

I wonder whether Pluralist is conceding territory unconsciously to fundamentalism. By allowing himself to get tied down to ‘we have no idea about Jesus’s upbringing’ statements, he risks perpetuating that rather fruitless discussion about ‘what really happened’ and the usual fundamentalist tactic that ‘if it didn’t happen like that it is valueless’. Of course we have no idea of what Jesus’ upbringing was like (apart from what may be inferred from our knowledge of C1 Palestinian society) – but we’ve always known that we didn’t know, haven’t we? Certainly the NT imagines rather than records, and we were happy enough… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“We don’t talk about how Lenin or Gandhi existed in the womb, and I have not heard it regarding Buddha.”

Well, there’s your problem (as American auto mechanics might say) – Jesus isn’t a political figure like Lenin or Gandhi, or a even a spiritual teacher like Siddhārtha Gautama. Jesus is Lord.

“It’s why other academic areas ignore Christianity more and more…”

Much less is is Christianity an “academic area.”

Joe
Guest

I think the implications for abortion are interesting and difficult. If God was not somehow the author of this conception (virgin birth?), then the Second Person would have entered or assumed somebody else’s body — presuming we can use ‘somebody’ to describe an early stage of gestation. If the foetus is in no way ‘personal’ then, even though a human body was assumed, no one/no person was violated, as it were. If the latter is true, then the theological need for a virgin birth to protect God’s agency is not absolute. Protecting God’s agency does seem crucial, though, otherwise we’d… Read more »

Viriato da Silva
Guest
Viriato da Silva

“”In that time, Mary may have been a whole-heartedly willing participant, but she was seen as a receptacle, no more and no less. And an imperfect one at that. One that had to be perfected at her conception.” – Viriato da Silva -“ Nay, Fr. Ron, ’twere not I who penned that. Bp. Walker, thank you for your clarification, but I admit still to some dis-ease. As Joe points out, “the implications for abortion are interesting and difficult.” Even if such implications were not intended by you to be teased out, they exist nonetheless, brought into being by the words… Read more »

toby forward
Guest

To accept the infancy narratives in the way that David Walker does here is the New Testament equivalent of Creationism. It’s time that our clergy and our bishops stopped talking about this myth in this way, just as they have stopped talking about a six day creation in this way. We use the creation stories to draw some theological truths, but we are always careful to say that they are not factual accounts. The same caveat needs always to be added when we try to draw theological truths from the infancy narratives. Having said that, I don’t think that, even… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

“To accept the infancy narratives in the way that David Walker does here is the New Testament equivalent of Creationism. It’s time that our clergy and our bishops stopped talking about this myth in this way, just as they have stopped talking about a six day creation in this way. We use the creation stories to draw some theological truths, but we are always careful to say that they are not factual accounts. “ I’m comfortable with a position that says one does not have to accept the account of the Virgin Birth and Nativity as factual accounts. I don’t… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

I don’t think I’ve ever had any real problem in believing in the theological efficacy of the conception, birth and childhood narrative of Luke about the Incarnate Word, Jesus. Like BillyD, I have no viable alternative explanation for how the Creator could have mediated the divine personhood into the human condition, except by a direct intervention. Luke’s assertion voiced by the Angel Gabriel must, in my book, be given some credence – in what is basically a theologically-based exercise -when explaining the other bit of the story, about Elizabeth’s surprising pregnancy – “For nothing is impossible to God”. Herein, for… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

Good – I very much appreciate what Toby Forward has written and I am even more wondering if you are the same Toby Forward as I encountered for a short period in Hull years back not so far from the university (I occasionally accompanied an ex-Unitarian who escaped to the Anglicans for a short period).

Pluralist
Guest

It doesn’t matter that Christianity is not an academic area, it is that it makes statements that academic subjects ignore. Theology might draw on economics or sociology etc., but they don’t draw on it.

Ford elms
Guest
Ford elms

“Faith does, after all, require some degree of ‘sight-unseen acceptance’. Otherwise, what’s this Faith business all about?”

Exactly. Faith with evidence isn’t faith, it’s knowledge.

mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest

“It doesn’t matter that Christianity is not an academic area, it is that it makes statements that academic subjects ignore. Theology might draw on economics or sociology etc., but they don’t draw on it.” I know what P means here, but I am reminded of the discussion between Dawkins and Ward where Dawkins objected to Ward’s arguments on the grounds that they were philosophy, not theology. If by theology P means the outworking of Christian philosophical ideas in the world, well, OK – but which areas of ‘academic theology’ do not interact with the academy? Biblical studies, patristics, ancient languages,… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

What I’m getting at is causality. Theology departments do lots of things and have many views, but in including ideas that there is a God causality it draws upon other departments like social science and science to add ballast to its ideas. It’s the other departments that don’t: you don’t get a sociology paper that asks what God might be doing here, or a history paper that wonders if God altered an event in any way. They discuss devout human beliefs as causes of change, but they never do that shift of perspective.

Ford elms
Guest
Ford elms

“It’s the other departments that don’t: you don’t get a sociology paper that asks what God might be doing here, or a history paper that wonders if God altered an event in any way.”

I hope Christopher Schell is reading this, and that’s not a snide jab. As I understand arguments he’s made in the past, it is precisely this fact that he considers a flaw in modern scientific enquiry. Christopher, if you’re out there, please correct me if this is a misrepresentation of your position WRT the position of God in science.