Wednesday, December 20, 2017


The virgin birth is a stumbling block
         for many people.
So a lot of creative work has gone
         into watering the story down
                  into something easier to believe.

We probably don’t need to make people’s opinions
         about this a shibboleth for orthodoxy.
Half of the Gospels don’t mention it.
None of the Epistles seem to be aware of it.
The Scriptures that treat Jesus as fully divine
         don’t rely on it.

But it is inescapably there in the story
         as told by Matthew, Luke, and the Creeds.
So we can’t avoid it.
We may understand it literally,
         or morally, or spiritually.
But I don’t see how we can honestly water it down
         to make it easier to believe.
Yes, virgin births occur in nature, albeit rarely,
         among some species.
Yes, artificial insemination can happen by chance
         and, in fact, has happened.
Yes, Mary’s words which we have translated
         as virgin could mean that she has just now
                  reached marriageable age.
But none of that tap dancing defends the faith
         or treats the text honestly.

The essential point of the story
         is that what the angel foretold
                  Mary knew to be impossible.
How can this be? she asks.
She might have responded any number of other ways.
 Like, Forget about it. This will wreck my reputation
                  not to mention my wedding.
                  How will I fit into the dress?
Or she might have taken the humble approach,
         Oh no. Not me. I am not worthy.

But Mary was a modern girl.
She goes immediately to the same point
         any modern skeptic would,
                  How can this be since I am a virgin?
So if you have trouble believing in the virgin birth,       
         you’re in good company.
The first person to doubt it was the Virgin herself.

And Gabriel responded with the point of the story
         – a point which all the modernist tap dancing obscures.
Gabriel said, Nothing will be impossible with God.
And Mary responded, Then let it be.
She consented to give her life over to God’s impossible promise
         for Nothing is impossible with God.

The story of Israel began with such an impossible promise
         almost 2,000 years before Mary
         when God promised Abraham that he and Sara
                  would have a child.
Abraham was a modern skeptic himself.
Genesis  17:17:
         Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.
         Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?
         Shall Sarah who is 90 years old bear a child?

But God insisted that the promise would be kept;
         and Abraham believed God.
He left his home and gave his life over to the promise,
         the impossible promise of God.
Faith means giving our lives over to the promise.
Modern people have done some tap dancing around
         the word faith too,
trying to make it into something less than belief
           easier than belief.
But faith is more than belief.
Anyone can believe in God.
As the saying goes, the very demons believe in God.

The  person who explained faith best was Soren Kierkegaard,
         who called faith a leap.
Faith isn’t just believing firemen are
         holding a net down there.
Faith is jumping out the window.

So this brings us to the point.
We can believe Luke’s story
         about the Virgin birth or not.
But just believing it won’t constitute faith.
What matters isn’t whether we believe Mary
         trusted God’s impossible promise to her.
What matters is whether we trust
         God’s impossible promise to us.
Believing Mary had faith is just a pious platitude,
         unless we follow her example.

That brings us to how we live our lives.
How do we decide where to invest ourselves?
Do we look at the world and assess what is possible,
         then try to achieve as much as is possible for us?
If that’s what we do, and if the gospel is true,
         then we’re selling ourselves short.
Because the gospel is that God has something better in mind
         for us than the merely possible.
God’s dream for us is the impossible.

So what is this promise?
What is the impossible promise God offers us?
Think back to last week
         – Isaiah’s prophesy of the peaceable kingdom
         – where the lion lays down with the lamb
                  and no one dies young
and sickness and poverty and suffering are all overcome.

Think of 1st John which says,
         We are God’s children now.
          It does not yet appear what we shall be,
                  but when he appears we shall be like him.”\
Think of Paul’s promise,
         The whole cosmos will be set free from its bondage to decay
         and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God...
         For in this hope we are saved.

God invites us to live into that promise.
It all starts with our inner self.
What will it be like for us inside.
What is possible for us?
The world says there are all sorts of conditions.
For a woman to give birth to the savior,
         she must have a man.
For us to love, the people we would love
         must first act loveable.
For us to be serene,
         we must first be secure in our life situation.
For us to be generous, we must first be rich.

Without those things and more,
         it is as impossible for us to have Christ in our soul
          as it was impossible for Mary to have Christ in her womb.
But Gabriel said, “With God, all things are possible.”
And Mary said, Then let it be.