Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Throughout the Bible, hope takes the form of a child. “Unto us a child is born” echoes and re-echoes through the canon. Adam and Eve hope for the Seed; Abraham and Sarah for Isaac; Isaac and Rebekah for Esau and Jacob; Jacob for his lost son, Joseph; the people of Judah for the hidden Davidic scion, Joash.

Hope is filial and, for that reason, also maternal. Pregnancy signifies the experience of hope as the present reality of future good. To his mother, an unborn child is inescapable. She feels his kicks and stretches and pirouettes rippling across her abdomen. Inside the warm bath of the womb, he hears her sing, learns her voice, responds to her love. Pregnancy is the real presence of joy not yet seen.

Hope matures from anticipation to realization through the painful passage of labor. A mother strains in anguish, on the edge of despair, to bring her hidden child to light. That, Paul says, is the state of creation, which “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:22)—not to make what is absent present, but to manifest what is now secret. Labor, Jesus says, is also the life of the disciple: “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 16:21). Only through tribulation does hope have its advent in the world.

All this comes to literal fulfillment in Mary. She is the first bearer of the mystery, “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), and through her pregnancy hope takes flesh. But Mary is morenot merely the exemplar of hoping, but the firstfruits of what we hope for. Advent fulfills the promise of the Son, but the Son reaches back to usher his mother into the new creation he inaugurates. Mary is with Jesus, and Jesus with Mary, both present at the new creation.

Luke’s annunciation scene surges with the music of new creation, much of it in a Marian key. Through the miraculous motherhood of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah, Yahweh foreshadows the promise of Genesis 3:15, which prophesies the miraculous motherhood of Mary. Elizabeth indirectly addresses Mary as a new Eve. She greets Mary with, “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42), an echo of Deborah’s commendation of Jael: “Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed is she of women in the tent” (Judg. 5:24). Jael is blessed because she delivered Israel by pounding a tent peg through Sisera’s skull. Through her Son, Mary does the same, giving birth to the Seed sent to crush the serpent’s head.

The angel Gabriel brings the news to Mary (Luke 1:26). Gabriel’s only appearance in the Old Testament is in Daniel (8:15–28; 9:20–27), where, among other things, he prophesies that “seventy weeks” will pass between Cyrus’s decree and the appearance of “Messiah the Prince.” Gabriel’s reappearance, first in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 1:19) and then in Nazareth, indicates his centuries-old prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Seventy weeks are winding down. The times of the Gentiles draw to a close. Deliverance is near. A new age dawns.

Gabriel tells Mary she’ll be “overshadowed” by the Spirit (Luke 1:32–35). When the world was new, the same Spirit hovered over the watery womb of earth, stirring it to life, order, and beauty. The Son of the Most High in Mary’s womb is a new cosmos in person, the incarnation of the Word in whom all things cohere, but Mary too is a cosmic figure, the matrix within whom the Spirit gives human shape to the Son. “Overshadow” also conjures the final scene of the book of Exodus, when Yahweh’s glory-cloud descends from Sinai to take its throne above the wings of the cherubim and to consecrate the tabernacle’s inner sanctuary (Exod. 40:34). Through the Spirit, Mary becomes holy space, gestating “the begotten holy thing” (Luke 1:34; to gennomenon hagion). John calls Jesus the tabernacle, the earthly dwelling of the glory of God (John 1:14), but Luke pushes the point one astonishing step further back: Like begets like; the Word is tabernacled because he issues from a mother who is already consecrated as a living temple. The Spirit-formed new creation begins in Mary at the very moment it’s planted in her as her Seed. Before the world’s Redeemer shows his sacred face, he’s begun to make Humanity 2.0, with Mary as the prototype.

Man’s future is Marian. We all, like Paul, labor until Christ is formed in each of us, until Christ is formed among us, until the sons of God are revealed in the fullness of our glory (Gal. 4:19). By the overshadowing Spirit, new creation already gestates in the womb of the world. With all of creation, we stand poised in Marian hope, longing to give birth to the Seed we already bear, longing to grow up to the full stature of the mother of our Lord. 

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.

First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

Click here to make a donation.

Click here to subscribe to First Things.

Image by Wikimedia Commons licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles