Here is the account of Mary learning that she'll be the mother of Christ, as told in the first chapter of Luke's gospel:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
The literal words in the Bible (across various translations) make clear that the angel Gabriel's words at the Annunciation convey to Mary what will happen, not what has happened, a future conception not a past one. The Annunciation—which is celebrated in the Christian liturgical calendar nine months before Christmas, on March 25, and has been the subject of countless works of art through the ages—is the commemoration of God's choice of a woman to bear the Savior of the world and of her willing acceptance of that role.
As it turns out, the Annunciation offers an invitation to Mary to give a very modern turn to a very pre-modern event: verbal consent.
In these modern times—marked by the kind of post-sexual revolution complexities and progressive sexual politics that make even the definitions of "rape," "rapist," and "nice men" points of conflict on both a personal and an international scale—verbal consent has been put forward in some quarters as the salvation of the sexually vulnerable.
Consider the sexual conduct code enacted—to much national acclaim and infamy—by Antioch College in the mid-'90s. Among the long list of steps required or recommended by the code in order to stay this side of official sexual misconduct were these:
- If sexual contact and/or conduct is not mutually and simultaneously initiated, then the person who initiates sexual contact/conduct is responsible for getting the verbal consent of the other individual(s) involved.
- The person with whom sexual contact/conduct is initiated is responsible to express verbally and/or physically her/his willingness or lack of willingness when reasonably possible.
These steps are followed quite neatly in the narration of the Annunciation in Luke's gospel. God initiates, and Mary gives her verbal consent: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."