Huh? Quoting the Qur’an for the Annunciation of Our Lord?
Well, there are things to be done here this day in proclaiming Mary, Mother of Our Lord, and I don’t much care who does the proclaiming, so long as it happens and so long as it is true to the Christian faith I hold.
If there is truth in the Qur’an, who is to complain? Not me.
Besides, if Moslems and Christians are going to talk together theologically—as we should—maybe the place to start our conversation is not in any of the usual places we might think, but with Mary.
But of course to speak of Mary in any Christian sense is to speak of Christ.
Strangely, though, reading the Qur’an, to speak of Mary in any Islamic sense also is to speak of Christ.
What an odd thing, yet perhaps not so odd. In speaking of Mary, we are always drawn closer to Mary’s son. Perhaps in this way, Christians and Moslems will be drawn to speak together.
So what do we Moslems and Christians together learn from the Qur’an?
Then We (God) sent her (Mary) our angel (Gabriel), and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said, ‘I seek refuge from you to God Most Gracious! Do not come near me, if you fear God!’
He said, ‘No, I am only a messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a holy son.’
She said, ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’
He said, ‘So (it will be). Your Lord says, ‘That is easy for Me, and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men, and a Mercy from Us.’
‘It is a matter decreed.’
(Qur’an 19:16-21, the Chapter of Mary)
We learn first, the Qur’an seems a little terse compared to St. Luke’s Gospel. In St. Luke Gabriel has a longer speech, and he spends more time explaining to Mary how God can do such a thing. He cites examples: the Holy Spirit will “over shadow her”; Mary’s barren aunt, Elizabeth, is expecting and God did that; and besides, with God everything is possible.
In the Qur’an, when God decides a thing, the thing is done, says Gabriel. No dithering, no rationalizations, few explanations, it just happens because God has said so.
In the Qur’an Gabriel cuts through the jive and says, essentially, if God’s wants it, God gets it. “That’s easy for me,” Gabriel quotes God. “It’s a matter already decreed.”
And so it is that Mary is to give birth to a son from God, to a “holy son,” a holy son who will be “Sign unto men” and a “Mercy” from God.
This both Moslem and Christian learn from each other about Mary and Mary’s son. To speak of Mary is to speak of Jesus—a “holy son” and a “Sign” and a “Mercy” from God. This is something we both may say, and say together.
One of the problems Christianity has had with Islam is deciding whether Islam represents an independent revelation, or whether it is only a derivative religion.
Early Christian reaction to Islam treated Islam as a subtext—a mix from a little bit of Judaism and a little bit of Christianity.
That is, Islam was neither a “true” revelation, not in the same way as Moses and the Ten Commandments revealed God, nor was Islam in the same way a revelation of God as Christ crucified and raised is a revelation of God.
At best Islam was said to be a Jewish-Christian heresy. At the very least it was a mere mismatch of traditions haphazardly filtered through an Arabian Desert culture. It was not in any sense “true,” historically or theologically.
But is Islam a “false” religion?
By that I mean to ask, “Does Islam in fact absolutely lead people away from knowledge of the one God of Abraham?”
This is what false religion does. Religion like that of a woman who calls herself Starhawk, big in the revival of wicca (once called witchcraft). This leads people away from the one God of Abraham.
That movie religion fostered by the Disney movie Pocahontas and the talking “grandmother tree.” Technically this is animism. This denies knowledge of the one God of Abraham.
Or the polytheistic religions where deity is diffuse and scattered among many gods and avatars. This too denies knowledge of the one God of Abraham.
When it comes to knowing something about Abraham’s God, we three—Jew, Christian, Moslem—are the only people who name our faith as first a faith in the one God.
Seems to me we have a lot of things we can talk about.
It is in this sense, and in no other, we Christians must ask is Islam a “true” religion.
And what, we must also ask, does that question itself mean for us, we who believe that Jesus was the Christ?
Well, maybe it is better to ask what Islam says.
Islam looks at Jesus and says:
- He was born sinless by divine appointment
- He was God’s “Sign unto men” and a “Mercy from God”
- He preached a gospel to Israel (in this way by extension Jesus was God’s Word)
- He healed the blind and the leprous
- Perhaps most astonishingly, the Qu’ran declares that Jesus was taken up to God, and…
- Jesus will return in the consummation of time to defeat the powers of an anti-christ.
Whereas in Islamic tradition Mohammed is dead and buried, the Qu’ran nonetheless teaches Jesus is with God in heaven, and yet is an inspiration for humanity.
The Qu’ran denies that Jesus was crucified. But on the point when we ask, “Where is Jesus now?” the Qu’ran answers much the same as we.
What? Yes, I know. This sermon is supposed to be about Mary, Mother of Our Lord. But as I have said, to talk about Mary is to talk about Christ.
In some way—maybe in a way only God himself will sort out—everything about Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—all comes back to Jesus.
This is true whether one can recognize the centrality of Christ or not. But if Christians, Jews, and Moslems are going to talk about the one true God of Abraham, at some point they are going to have to talk about Jesus.
Theologians call this the scandal of particularity.
Particularity is the fact that God does not deal with the world in a standard, predictable way, nor even in ways we approve, but in a particular, one might even say peculiar way.
God uses particular times and particular places, and above all particular persons in order to touch the whole of his creation.
This scandal become even more peculiar because we Christians say God touched the entire universe through a young girl in a little town in Judea when Quirinius was governor and Augustus was emperor.
It was a little thing, a small particular thing, done—so we Christians say—for the whole universe.
And in the Word of God spoken and promised through Gabriel to Mary, she brought forth her first born Son.
God gave a particular Sign and a Mercy.
So it is from this tiny planet flows the radiant beams of his holy face and carries outward the transforming love of the one true God for the whole universe.