18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit….22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Mat 1:18, 22-23 NRS)
• Why is it important for us (as Christians) to believe in the doctrine of the Virgin Birth—other than of course it’s taught in the Scripture? What use is it? It is a sacrifice of our intelligence?
Pastor William Carter said that on his Christmas vacation on his first year in college, he had become an expert on the birds and the bees. Biology was his major, and after a semester in the freshman class, he was certain that he knew more biology than most adults did in his hometown … including his minister. A few days before Christmas, he stopped in to see him. He received him warmly and asked how he had fared in his first semester. “Okay,” he replied, avoiding the subject of his mediocre grades. But then he told his pastor, “I’ve come home with some questions.”
“Really?” the pastor replied. “Like what?”
“Like the virgin birth. I’ve taken a lot of biology, as you know,” which meant one semester in which he received a B-, “and I think this whole business of a virgin birth doesn’t make much sense to me. It doesn’t fit with what I have learned in biology class.”
“What’s the problem?” he asked.
“There had to be a father,” he announced. “Either it was Joseph or somebody else.”
His pastor looked at him with a coy smile and said, “How can you be so sure?”
“Oh, come on,” he said. “That’s not the way it works. There had to be a father.”
His pastor didn’t back down. Instead he said something that Carter said he’ll never forget: “So – why not God?”
That’s a good response “Why not God?” In fact that is not only a reasonable response, but a biblical response: “…she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit….” Luke says it this way: “34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luk 1: 34-37ESV) Notice Mary is just as dumbfounded as Carter the first-semester-biology major (with one class with a B-) who cynically asks “come on! That’s not how it works?” Mary responds in a similar way: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” We would ask today: “Is it in the water?” The difference between Carter and Mary is that Carter is a cynic and Mary was not. Skepticism and cynicism are not intellectual virtues. Skepticism and cynicism are usually the cowards-way-out. Anyone can be a skeptic and cynic: the minimum requirement is to have both a small mind and small heart. Carter at the time was small minded and hearted indicative of his sophomoric reliance on his grasp on how things really work. But Mary did not rely on her own grasp of how things work; she relied on and had a sufficient grasp on another reality, the way things are truly done. Mary did not look to secondary causes for reality, but the primary cause of reality (i.e. God). Gabriel reminds Mary this: “For nothing will be impossible for God!” In other words God can not only override nature and natural causes and natural laws, but God can (and has) suspend nature and natural causes and natural laws: God can suspend gravity, second-law of thermodynamics, all the laws of physics. Why? God made it!! For Mary to believe this was the most reasonable thing to do. But in regard to Carter (the young sophomoric cynic) he came to realized how unreasonable he was, realizing he had been the one sacrificing his intelligence. Only a fool would say there is no God! And only a fool would say such a thing (Virgin Birth) proves impossible for God!
• But this does not answer my original question: why is it important for us to believe in the Virgin Birth? What use is it? There are at least two reasons the Virgin Birth is useful for Christians.
First, the Virgin Birth teaches us that God occupied history. Unlike the Occupy-Wall Street- Protesters, God did not pitch a tent on property that was not his; God pitched His tent on his own property. The Virgin Birth teaches and affirms what all of Scripture teaches as affirms—that is that the Creator is sovereign over all of His creation (including us), that God is outside of space-and-time, yet intimately within space and time, that He is concerned about us, so concerned that God became flesh (incarnation). This flies in the face of our modern pagan culture—our neo-pagan, sophomoric, cynical culture rejects the Virgin Birth. The reason? We are taught that we live in a closed-universe: closed off from God. All things existing are material and can be explained mechanistically or materially. [science defined by closed-universe]. The problem with this so called scientific definition or understanding of reality is that it is not based upon science, but philosophy. Philosophically, the Virgin Birth teaches that our universe is open. Theologically it is open to God as Creator and Redeemer in Christ through the incarnation.
The second reason the Virgin Birth is useful is that it teaches that Jesus was not a mere man: God-Man. Familiarity can breed disrespect and contempt. When you get to know someone the mystique fades and we’re no longer interested. This happened to Jesus. People in his hometown of Nazareth did not honor Jesus because he was a hometown boy. There is no mystique to a hometown-boy. You don’t want a hometown-boy whom you’ve baby-sitted and changed diapers to grow-up and become your OB-GYN? The Virgin Birth gives us an insight into just how radically different and unique Jesus was and is. The Virgin Birth teaches that though God became flesh (familiar) the manner of His incarnation makes Him unfamiliar. Unlike Carter the young sophomoric cynic who is comfortable with what is familiar, Mary accepted the unfamiliar mystique of her virgin birth.
In conclusion, as we make our preparations during this second Sunday of Advent, may we keep focus on not only the meaning of Christmas (Jesus born to die) but also the mystique of Christmas. Too often we are too familiar with the biblical stories of Christmas, too comfortable with what we think we know. May we become less like Carter the young sophomoric cynic, and be more like Mary (one of the greatest women of faith) whose faith was open to God and His activity in this world, and a faith that was challenged, not fixed on the familiar and comfortable but willing to be stretched and molded, knowing nothing is impossible for God. AMEN!