Issue No. 51 27 Dec 2010 – 2 Jan 2011

Chapel Notes

The Surprising Virgin Birth
Luke 1.26-38

At our Christmas celebrations on Dec 22, we were especially blessed to have our student Bruno Luse (vocals and guitar) and friend Valerie Lim (piano) lead us in our carol-worship.

Quek Tze-Ming, Lecturer in NT and Hermeneutics, shared a reflection on “The Surprising Virgin Birth”, based on Luke 1.26-38:

The surprising event of the virgin birth has received many different theological interpretations over the centuries. While many of these interpretations have some truth, it may be interesting to consider the virgin birth from another angle – the angle of Mary, a socially insignificant girl in first century Palestine.

In the ancient world, people did not think that men and women shared equally in reproduction. The ancient Greeks thought that only the man was active, providing the vital spark for new life. The woman was a passive, basically a container in which this new life developed and grew. The picture is that of a sower sowing seed in a fertile field. Incidentally, the ancient Greeks also believed that female children came about because there was something wrong in the womb – it’s either too cold or too warm for proper male child to develop. Hence Aristotle’s idea that women are misbegotten males. In short, life came from men, women merely provided a more or less adequate environment. Against this pre-scientific background, the doctrine of the virgin birth gives a surprising centrality to the woman’s role in reproduction.

Furthermore, women in first century Palestine were not usually independent people. They passed from the care and control of their fathers into the care and control of their husbands. To be a respectable woman was to be under the wing of some man – which is why the plight of widows is so often mentioned in the Bible along with that of orphans – to lose the male head of the household is to be in a vulnerable position.

If we bring this social situation to our understanding of the virgin birth, we find some interesting results. Mary is a girl in a time of transition. She is betrothed. That means she has begun the journey away from her father’s control. But she is not yet fully married. That means she is not yet under Joseph’s control. It is at this mid-point of change and ambiguity in her social position that Mary is invited to become the mother of Jesus, the mother of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit. No longer defined just as ‘daughter’, not yet defined just as ‘wife’, Mary is free to answer for herself in a special way. When she says: “Let it be to me according to your word”, Mary is asserting that she can and will decide for herself. She can trust and respond to the invitation of God.

The virgin birth allows Mary the space to respond for herself. In Mary’s virginity we are to see a freedom from the old ties where men decided for women in all matters; where women were seen as being less than men. We can see Jesus’ birth as being free from this kind of unfair relationships.

Is this “angle from Mary” far-fetched? Let’s consider the Gospel of Luke – surely the most relevant context for us to see the virgin birth – at least, Luke’s version of the virgin birth. Luke, unlike Matthew, does not mention the Immanuel prophecy. So perhaps Isa 7.14 is not his priority when he tells us of the virgin birth. Luke does however mention more stories about women, more stories of male and female pairs (Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna), than just about anybody else.

And Luke, of course, has Mary sing those wonderful words of the Magnificat. What Luke’s account of the virgin birth is teaching us is that the conception of Jesus is the beginning of a new world: The new world of the Magnificat rather than the world of the past and the present. A new world that begins with a socially insignificant woman saying yes to God without consulting with father or husband. A new world in which the powerful are brought down, the lowly exalted, the hungry filled and the rich sent away empty.

The message that Mary speaks, both in her song and in her life, is one of freedom and change and boundless possibilities. The Magnificat celebrates Jesus’ coming kingdom: A kingdom that breaks down the barriers to what we believed to be possible – for both men and women. In Jesus’ kingdom, we no longer have to accept the roles that society expects of us – we can respond to God’s invitation. That is the essence of vocation. We no longer have to believe that our future is dictated by our past – we can make a new beginning. That is the essence of repentance. All things are possible with God – the barren can become fruitful, the poor can be exalted, the sinner can be forgiven, the virgin can become a mother.

In this season of advent, at the turn of the year, with some pretty important changes coming about for BGST, let us leave with this challenge. We can all, whatever our past and whatever our present, become God-bearers. This is the Greek title given to Mary by the church – Theotokos, the one who bears God. BGST faculty and staff and students can be Theotokoi – ones to whom God comes to birth, ones who bear God in our lives and to our world. After all, isn’t that what our mission is? All we need is the same courage and willingness to step into the unknown shown by Mary herself.

Courses Commencing in January, 2011

The Christian Mind (AT361, 1.5cr);(Group Tutorial
by Dr David Wong/Tutor: Dr Lai Pak Wah;
Jan 11, 18, 25, Feb 1; (Tue 7.30-9.30pm)
Venue: Telok Ayer CMC, 235 Telok Ayer Street

*New Testament Greek II (BG112, 3cr);

Jan 6, 13, 20, 27, Feb 10, 17, 24, Mar 3, 17, 24, 31, Apr 7, 14, 21, 28, May 5; (Thu 7.30-9.15pm)
Venue: Clarus Centre
Lecturer: Mr Quek Tze-Ming (PhD candidate, Uni of Cambridge)

*Biblical Hebrew Exegesis II (BH212, 3cr);
Jan 10, 17, 24, 31, Feb 7, 14, 28, Mar 14, 21, 28, Apr 4, 11; (Mon 7.30-9.45pm)
Venue: Clarus Centre
Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite

New Testament Foundations II (NT102, 3cr);

Jan 14, 21, 28, Feb 11, 18, 25, Mar 18, 25, Apr 1, 8;
(Fri 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Clarus Centre
Adjunct Lecturer: Dr Oh Boon Leong

Spirituality for Christian Formation (ECF503, 3cr);

Jan 5, 12, 19, 26, Feb 9, 16, 23, Mar 2, 9, 23, 30, Apr 6;
(Wed 7.15-9.30pm)
Venue: Prinsep St Presbyterian Church, 77 Prinsep Street
Lecturer: Mr Chong Ser Choon

*Research Methods & Ministry: Qualitative (ECF520, 3cr);
Jan 11, 18, 25, Feb 1, 8, 15, 22, Mar 1, 8, 15;
(Tue 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Clarus Centre
Adjunct Lecturer: Dr Chen Ai Yen

Liberating the Laity: Empowering the Whole People of God for Service in the Church & World (MM251, 3cr); (Group Tutorial)
by  Prof Paul Stevens/ Tutor: Dr Ng Peh Cheng;
Jan 20(New Commencement Date), 27, Feb 10, 24, Mar 3; (Thu 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Zion Bishan BP Church, 4 Bishan St 13

The Christian Faith (TS101, 3cr);
Jan 10, 17, 24, 31, Feb 7, 14, 21, 28, Mar 14, 21;
(Mon 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Zion Bishan BP Church, 4 Bishan St 13
Lecturer: Dr Edwin Tay

* Courses marked with an asterisk are not offered on audit basis.
For more information on our courses please visit our website:   http://bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events

The Book Corner will be closed on 27 and 28 Dec for stock taking.

BGST Library will be opened from 9am to 6pm on 31st Dec in view of New Year’s eve.

BGST Faculty and Staff would like to wish all readers Happy New Year 2011!
37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Block B, Union Industrial Building S(577177).
Tel: 6227-6815 Fax: 6255-3686 Email: bgst@pacific.net.sg
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