In Mary we see a girl who is in a position of transition. She is betrothed – and so has begun the journey away from her father’s control. But she is not yet married and is still a virgin – and so is not yet under Joseph’s control.
It is at this point of fluidity and ambiguity in her social position that Mary is invited to become the mother of God. And it is at this point that she is able to answer for herself in a unique way. No longer defined just as ‘daughter’, not yet defined just as ‘wife’, Mary is free to answer for herself. Her ‘Let it be to me according to your word’ is an assertion of her right to decide for herself, as much as a trusting response to the invitation of God.
This is the importance of the doctrine of the virgin birth – not that it exalts virginity over sexual activity but that it allows Mary the space to respond for herself. The conception of Jesus is the beginning of a new order: the order of the Magnificat rather than the order of the status quo. A new order that begins with a socially insignificant woman saying yes to God without consulting either father or husband – a new order that breaks with patriarchy and allows new relationships of equality to come to birth.
Image The Magnificat, Wikimedia Commons
Ellen is the Cathedral Vicar of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, Canada and Archdeacon of Burrard. She was a Vaughan Park Scholar in Residence in 2010.