Jesus Was An Unplanned Pregnancy

The Annunciation , by  Ginger Oakes  (2018)

The Annunciation, by Ginger Oakes (2018)

Today is the Annunciation, the feast in which we commemorate the visit by Gabriel to Mary to announce the conception of Jesus. It was on the basis of this date, March 25th, that the church selected December 25th for the celebration Christmas (nine months later, get it?). And though we are used to celebrating the Incarnation on Christmas, the Annunciation is actually the first feast of the Incarnation, for it was at Jesus’ conception that God took on flesh and became one of us, though this great mystery was known only to Mary and Joseph. Therefore the Annunciation has always been a feast of the highest rank in the church, meriting much celebration (and suspending the Lenten fast).

In our contemporary political and cultural climate, however, to celebrate the Annunciation is not only an act of rejoicing, but also a radical act of resistance against the ruling powers. For in celebrating the Annunciation, we insist (together with the evidence of biology) that human life begins at conception, and that this small and vulnerable life is valuable and worthy of protection. Moreover, it is especially striking to realize that the conception of Jesus was not planned, at least not by his human mother. Indeed, Mary had every reason to expect that she would not conceive a child, as she was a virgin! She even raised this point with Gabriel. But Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would take care of the mechanics:

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:34-35).

Now Mary might have objected to the whole plan. “Pick someone else!” she might have said, a fairly common response to God’s call in sacred history. After all, such a conception was sure to transform Mary’s entire life. Becoming a mother is not just a matter of time spent (nine months of pregnancy, years of nursing and rearing); it is also a transformation of life trajectory, of affections, of concerns and purposes. And for Mary, though she did not know it, becoming a mother meant not only bringing a child to life, but also grieving her own child’s death. Such glories and troubles would transform anyone, and it would not be surprising should a woman fear such a dramatic change. Moreover, Mary was not yet married, and could reasonably fear that this pregnancy would lead to a cancellation of her betrothal with Joseph. If Mary had conceived in our own time, surely many of her friends would have encouraged her to visit “Planned Parenthood,” where like millions of others she could hire doctors to kill her child before he was born.

Yet Mary responded with a welcome, with steady humility and steely resolve, receiving the child who would change her life and bring hope to the whole world:

Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Peter Johnston