Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.” – Luke 1:34-35 (CEB)
Some Christian traditions celebrate today as the “Annunciation of the Lord,” the day Mary receives the “announcement” that she will become pregnant and give birth to “God’s Son.”
Mary’s first response is that she hasn’t had “sexual relations with a man.” She is a teenager and she knows how these things work and she knows how babies are made.
And even though I have heard the angel’s response more times than I can count, this time I was struck by the statement, “therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy.”
Therefore? Did the angel mean to imply that if Jesus were conceived through the act of sex that he somehow would be less holy? Or not holy at all?
I’m not here to argue the merits of the “immaculate conception” as I remember it referred to as a child hearing this story. I am, however, prepared to go to the mat and argue that sexual relations between consenting adults is indeed holy.
At first it seemed odd that this Advent story would show up in the Lenten season. But as we journey with Jesus towards the cross, it makes perfect sense that we remember Jesus’ full humanity, his fleshy self, and the holy body from which he came. Mary’s body.
Understanding sexual relations as holy, claiming our bodies as holy, declaring our full selves as holy is necessary as we do the work of ending human and sexual trafficking, to engage fully in the #metoo and #timesup movements, and to minister to those who have suffered from the distortion of what God has created holy.
Holy God, deliver us from the many ways we have distorted the story of your love made flesh. Forgive us the harm we have caused by avoiding real conversations about sex. Help us to recognize you in every relationship and to know each other as holy. Amen.
Marilyn Pagán-Banks (she/her/ella) is a queer womanist freedom fighter gratefully (though not always gracefully) serving as executive director of A Just Harvest, Senior Pastor at San Lucas UCC, and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is a joyful contributor to The Words of Her Mouth.