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.”