Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Birth of a Baby

Of all the dangerous and miraculous stories of scripture, the story of the Virgin Birth has captured the imagination of the church in a unique way.

Historic Christianity insists on embracing the Virgin Birth precisely because it synthesizes brilliantly the core imagination of God becoming flesh. It calls us to an order only love can create.


A young Jewish woman is impregnated by the Holy Spirit, and carries a baby inside her out of wedlock, and then is informed by an angel that the baby she is carrying is the Savior of the world. A little illegitimate child as Messiah. A young woman who transcends the narrow confines of her social, economic, and cultural context to give birth to Messiah. It really is the quintessential impossible story. And that’s why the church has always insisted that we embrace it.


But, the story of the virgin birth is also about the equally high purpose of establishing Christ's humanity. The mystery of the incarnation is found in a Messiah who gestates in the belly of young Jewish peasant girl for nine months only to be delivered in a labor of love that changed the whole world. The doctrine of the virgin birth was originally developed to counter the Gnostic notion that Jesus was not fully human, did not develop from something so tiny and tenuous as a fertilized egg, did not grow as a fetus inside a teenage girl, did not cause that young mama to puke every morning for weeks, was not heaved out into the world in a painful and bloody birth like every other human on the planet—and in a smelly barn with livestock at that. You can’t get more physical and sensate than a birth.

Jana and I have big news: we are going to be grandparents in February. A little girl already named Corley Elizabeth will be born to Chad and Mary Beth. I give you fair warning right now—you won’t be able to live with me. Grandparent names have already been claimed. Jana will be ‘Nana’ and I will be ‘Papa Charlie.’ Of course, that little girl can call me anything she wants to! Our precious Mary Beth miscarried twice, so we see this baby as a miracle. But, then again, aren’t they all?

We cannot pay homage to the god of science, and worship at the altar of human rationalism, and celebrate the story of the virgin birth at the same time. We are called to suspend and bracket science, to trust that there is an order beyond what we can analyze.

We have to be embarrassed, because, as the great novelist Flannery O’Connor wryly commented, “Mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind.”


5 comments:

Kara said...

Congratulations, Papa Charlie!!!! And, as always, your mastery of the English language is unparalleled. I appreciate your writing and your spirit. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Robert Flynn said...

Congratulations, Charlie! A new baby will change your life just as it will change the world. Every birth is a miracle and a mystery. Merry Christmas to all.
www.robert-flynn.net

BARNABUS said...

DEAR CHARLIE:
"CONGRATULATIONS" TO BOTH YOU AND JANA ON BECOMING GRANDPARENTS SOON!
BE COULDN'T BE HAPPIER FOR YOU BOTH!
I KNOW YOU AND JANA WILL "SPOIL HER ROTTEN" - BUT, THAT'S GREAT, BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT GRANDPARENTS ARE FOR!!!
"MERRY CHRISTMAS" TO YOU, JANA, AND ALL YOUR FAMILY, TOO!
AND, THE "MAGIC" YOU MENTIONED IS SOMETHING I AM REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO FOR OUR FAMILY IN THIS COMING "NEW YEAR" (2009)!
WELL TAKE CARE, AGAIN HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOURS, AND "CONGRATS" ON YOUR WONDERFUL NEWS, "PAPA CHARLIE"!
LOVE, BARNABUS ~

Dr Randi Fass said...

Charlie and Jana, that is such good news! What a blessing, especially at this time of year!

I have been thinking about Mary more than usual this year, how she must have been stunned and humbled by the angel's news. Her response was almost the same as Zechariah's, but without the doubt. She rejoiced and gave thanks in the midst of what must have become a small town scandal. How Joseph must have wept at her "infidelity" until the Angel of the Lord restored his faith in Mary. And when they went to Bethlehem, surely Joseph's family was there as well, but where were they at the manger? Mary, still an outcast, gave birth to our Lord with only Joseph to help her - and he was probably not aculturated for that task! Imagine his emotion ans hers. This is indeed a time for celebrating miracles!

Praise God for His gifts of love: the Babe in the Manger, the man on the cross. For your impending Grandparenthood and for all the other gifts we have received. Let us give them all back with joy and thanksgiving!

Welcome to the club, you two! You'll have to work hard to keep up with us on the proud grandparent role! It's wonderful!

Merry Christmas and Much Love,
Randi and Martin

Charlie Johnson said...

We are still in the Christmastide celebration, and I hope it continues to produce thoughts of wonder and mystery for you all!