In earlier traditions, a virgin birth commonly signaled the entrance of a divine human.
In Egypt, Horus was born to a virgin.
In Greece, Alexander the Great was born to a virgin.
In Tibet, Indra; In India, Krishna; In Phrygia, Attis.
In Siam, Codom was conceived when a wandering sunbeam caressed a girl.
In China, the divine Fohi was conceived when a lotus plant caressed a nymph while she was bathing in a river.
Lao Tzu was conceived when a falling star impregnated his mother. She’s understood to have given birth to him from her left armpit while leaning against a plum tree.
Can you imagine trying to explain that one? “Honest, daddy, there was this star…”
Pythagoras, Plato, Sargon, Perseus, Miletus, even Zeus - who sired so many other virgin-born heroes, was called Zeus Marnas or Virgin-born Zeus.
Now for the apostle Paul – a Roman citizen whose accounts predate the Gospel writers by at least a couple decades - the birth of Jesus was pretty mundane. In his letters to churches in both Galatia and Rome, the birth is described in pretty unremarkable terms.
But by the time the author of the gospel of Matthew jotted down his version, the birth of Jesus had been assigned as a virgin birth and our Mary joined the ranks of Athena, Aphrodite, Venus, Ishtar, Diana, and more.
This mythological formula of a virgin, impregnated by God, giving birth to a God-person is a trope that has emerged across traditions and endured across centuries. Since taking root in Christianity, the story of the Virgin Mary, impregnated by God in spirit form, giving birth to the baby Jesus amidst signs and wonders, has become at least one of the most celebrated and cherished stories in the world.
This narrative presents magi. These unlikely candidates were gentile scientists who obeyed the call of a star – they obeyed inspiration, presented in a manner which they could accept. Theirs is a story of that higher idea which already exists for each of us if we will but lift our eyes high enough over the horizon of current circumstances to see it.
It could be said that together, this is a story of availability and obedience – two sides of one coin, perhaps. After all, what value has availability without obedience?
Would our magi story have endured if it just ended with the star?
Of course not. Because that would not be a good story. We’ve all known those who get those higher ideas but in their unwillingness to obey those higher ideas, those higher ideas eventually pass to more obedient soul, leaving them asking questions such as, “I wonder how my life might have been different if I had just…”
This story endured because the magi demonstrated availability to inspiration – inspiration presented in a manner which each could accept – and obedience to inspiration.
It strikes me as a wonderful attribute of God-ness that inspiration comes to the eastern and to the western and to the Jew and to the Christian and to the Buddhist and to the naturist and to the Taoist and to the Confucian and yes, to the agnostic and atheist as well, in a manner which each can accept.
Can we really read this into this story? I think we can. Inspiration comes to all in a manner which each can accept. The gentile magi of the east remind us of our oneness in God. They remind us of Unity’s first Tenet, really, that there is a singular ground of being. Your tradition differs from my tradition because you differ from me. Diversity among traditions, you see, is just as divinely ordained as diversity among humans.
And it’s at this juncture that our story presents the Virgin Mary – a woman of such sweeping import that her name appears more often in the Quran than in the Bible. It’s at this juncture in our infancy narrative that the angel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the holy offspring to be born of you will be called Son of God.”
By all worldly accounts, Mary was ill-prepared and ill-equipped. An underage peasant girl – imagine the arguments she could have made.
And I have to tell you, I love it that Mary was ill-prepared and ill-equipped. I love it that Mary was ill-prepared and ill-equipped because while we tend to reject these as deficits to be overcome, I would suggest that this narrative extends them as necessities to be embraced. I would suggest that ill-prepared and ill-equipped are powerful positions for transformation for it’s only when we recognize that of our ego selves, we’re ill-prepared and ill-equipped that our spiritual selves are freed to step into to those resources which transcend our own. Humility and power are fond bedfellows, you see.
I would go so far as to argue that at every pinnacle moment – at every jump point in human evolution, you’ll find at the center at least one soul who was wildly ill-prepared and completely ill-equipped, for change cannot rise from a comfortable, status quo wisdom.
That’s why people experience what they call beginner’s luck. There is no beginner’s luck. There is only beginner’s mind – there is only the mind that understands its place within the greater mind we call God and, by virtue of that understanding, is beautifully positioned as a vehicle for something of great good.
So, you see, in a world marked with greed and all that greed begets – selfishness, inequity, oppression and cruelty – an angel announced a pregnancy which symbolized a higher idea for nothing short of a new world order.
And with the angel’s announcement – in what I would offer as a pinnacle moment in our narratives – Mary responded by saying, “Let it be. Let it be.”
So it could be said that these are stories of availability, obedience and acceptance. For what value have availability and obedience without acceptance? The world is brimming with people standing at the edge of their own fullness, pointing at what could be.
So, whether we consider the prophecy of Isaiah or the story of Matthew; whether we consider the prophecy of a young woman of marriageable age or the story of a virgin impregnated by God in spirit form, there is a common thread: both are tales of a hopeful triumph rising from a daunting circumstance, both are tales of a profound light rising from a lingering darkness.
What happened in Bethlehem yesterday is what happens in us today. For even now, the heavenly hosts sing; and even now the stars point; and even now, an angel whispers. And as the shepherds remind us that we will have to get quiet, and as the magi remind us that we will have to look up, our Mary reminds us that we will have to say yes.
The higher ideas of life require us to be available, obedient and willing, you see. Mary reminds us that we will have to say, “Let it be. Let it be.”