Sexual Relations

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son.                           

Matthew 1:24-25 

So concludes the last Lesson for the 7:00 PM Lessons & Carols Service for this Saturday night. On Christmas Eve, we will remember this strange story where a young woman has a baby. It doesn’t happen as it usually does. Something is different. Something is unique — and according to the stories recorded by those we know as Matthew and Luke, the reason is simple. This woman never had sex. Personally, I don’t think that this is the pivotal point of the story. I don’t think that the only amazing thing that God does is make women pregnant — no matter how impossible it may seem.

And yet, this is the story we tell. This is the impossibility of our human imaginations. A young woman who never should have had a baby by human conventions is told that she will bear a child — and that child will be known as Emmanuel. This is the important part to this particular gospel. God comes to be with us. It doesn’t really matter how it happens. So why am I so adamant about making sure that we read this story where it’s clear that Mary didn’t have sex? Why do we need to talk about such things on Christmas Eve? Can’t this just be a nice story?

I am pondering this since the youth that signed up to read this text actually read it. She doesn’t want to read this word aloud. Her older sister is uncomfortable too. They don’t want to say this on Christmas Eve. They would rather read anything else. So, their mother asked if they could read another translation — one where it wasn’t so clear that we were talking about sex. I refused. I dug in my heels. No. No. No. She can read something else. That’s more than fine but we will talk about sex. We will include this part of the story that I don’t actually think is at all important to the birth of the Christ. Yes. You read that right. I don’t think that Mary was a virgin. (I am not the only one to think that this is true. Please do pick up a copy of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The First Christmas to read a thoughtful account of this perspective.) So, why does it matter if we explicitly refer to “sexual relation” or even “marital relations” on Christmas Eve?

I’ve turned this over in my head all weekend. I can’t stop thinking about those young girls sold into prostitution or the boy who committed suicide last week because of his sexuality or the woman that just miscarried or the girl that just aborted her unborn child for reasons she can’t quite understand. I can’t stop thinking about all of those times that the church should be talking about sex — and we don’t. We are silent.   So, it may not be enough. We should probably say more but amid the many families that will gather on Christmas Eve, we’re going to say a word that no child may have ever heard spoken in church. We’re going to talk about sex. It won’t solve the problem but it might hint at the fact that this is a place — this church is a place — where we can talk about those things. After all, God is with us.

2 thoughts on “Sexual Relations

  1. we soooooo need clergy who are willing to talk about sex: healthy sex, healthy decisions, healthy boundaries and yes, the joy that can be had through being sexual. Having grown up Catholic, I am acutely aware of how the forbidden becomes the obsession and how messages of shame can cripple people's emotional healthy around bodies and sexuality. Preach on, Rev. Elisa~!


  2. The non-virgin Mary? Not quite the same ring to it. But in a society where many women don't consider fellatio to be sex, perhaps this is a topic that we could stand to discuss.


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