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Most evangelical Protestants are today sitting out as Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and some liturgical Protestants celebrate one of the most significant events in the New Testament: the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.

One might expect American evangelicals to be among the most enthusiastic celebrants of what is known as the Annunciation. For starters, it focuses on two issues that theologically conservative Protestants have long defended against theological liberals: the historicity of the Virgin Birth, and Christ's unique divinity. In a theological sense, the Annunciation could be of greater significance than Christmas.

"It connects directly to the incarnation, while Christmas (whatever the true date) falls around nine months after the incarnation," says pro-life writer Randy Alcorn. "It is basic Christian doctrine that Christ became flesh at the moment the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, at the moment of fertilization. He became human at the exact point all others become human, the point of conception."

And so the Annunciation's implications are intensely political as well as theological. Few days on the Christian calendar, and few passages in Scripture, are so relevant to the abortion debate. For example, Alcorn notes that since Mary "hurried" to see Elizabeth (Luke 1:39) after Gabriel's visit, it's likely that Jesus was not yet fully implanted in Mary's womb when Elizabeth's unborn son, John, "leaped for joy" (1:41-44). That, he suggests, helps to eliminate hairsplitting over when personhood begins.

Some Protestants have attempted to draw out the pro-life implications of the Annunciation. The group ...

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