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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Week of December 13, 2015

Why is there a virgin birth?

I'll point out the obvious: we have only two references to Jesus's virgin birth in the New Testament.  Only two?  Our news hawks today would've been all over such a miraculous event...or would they?  

People tell of miraculous events on a daily basis.  I like listening to Coast to Coast AM, a late-night AM, syndicated radio show that airs nightly.  Honestly, if the subject of the show isn't UFOs, Bigfoot, Paranormal Encounters, Fringe Theories of the Cosmos, Adventures of the Unconscious, Geopolitical Perspectives, etc., then I'm not going to listen.  Oddly enough, regardless of whether the guest is both reputable and credible, they rarely if ever make mainstream media with their topics.  Sure, some of the shows are beyond ridiculous; but, I just chalk those up as entertainment.  It sure beats the constantly-airing garbage on most network channels (minus a few sitcoms and Scandal, of course).

Maybe the virgin birth wouldn't have made the network or 24-hour news feeds because it's too far out there.  Virgins don't have babies--unless, of course, their parents are complete morons.  I think we mess up when thinking that folks in antiquity were post-cave-people in purplish robes with clashing head pieces.  They probably hadn't figured out the intricacies of the haploid fist bump resulting in the diploid zygote and chromosome pairing, but thousands of years of evolution had taught them some stuff about baby-making, for sure.  It may be the case that they were more in touch with the whole process than we are.  If less is more, as they say, then it just might be that less knowledge equals more intelligence.  Babies from virgins, though, seems to short-circuit both.

What are we to do as 21st-century, WebMD-browsing, pharmacy-frequenting, specialist-trusting folk who've even dragged our important parts into political debate and public policy?  Some nations regulate and control population growth through gene manipulation.  We've mapped the whole genome and can even predict a person's behavioral tendencies and risks for disorder before they're a person (You decide when that is).  I can remember my genetics professor at NC State University telling us about this new field of study called Genetic Counseling.  Y'all have it here, too.  My guess is that there's close to zero probability that a human female could parthenogenetically reproduce.  Someone will make the argument that the Holy Spirit could easily manipulate a female human's ovulation to where the cellular environment shifts such that the fertilization process begins and the other half of the chromosomes needed for pairing appear in the zygote; or, maybe there's such a thing as Holy Ghost haploids.  

I guess what I'm saying here is that we can't Harry Potter this thing (say some words, wave the wand, and "Poof!").  For a virgin to have a baby, things have to happen to her body.  While I love exploring theories of how our reality is really a virtual reality run by a master computational intelligence that can pixilate what we taste, see, feel, smell, and touch from a operating system of fractals practically out of thin air, my social and scientific experience, while lacking, reminds me how quickly I dive headlong down the slippery slope of fantasy.  Babies come from mommies and daddies, not from nothing.  In other words, the Holy Spirit would have to get physical.

Why is there a virgin birth?  

There are rarely answers to "why" questions, yet we can speculate from these two accounts of the virgin birth.

Matthew's Account (Matt.1.18-25).  This account is about Joseph, not Mary.  To make a long story short, let's just listen to what the account tells us about the reasons for the virgin birth:

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,"
which means, "God is with us."

The prophecy is from Isaiah 7.14.  The Gospel writer wants to make certain we know Jesus is the Messiah of messiahs.  His weapon of choice: this formula of fulfilled prophecies (2.5b-6, 15b, 17-18, 23b; 3.3; 4.14-16; 8.17; 12.17-21; 13.14-15, 35; 21.4-5; 26.56; 27.9-10).

Luke's Account (Luke 1.26-38).  This account is about Mary, not Joseph.  Basically, Gabriel appears to Mary and reveals to her that she's favored by God, will conceive in her womb, and give birth to a baby boy she's to name Jesus ("he saves").  Gabriel says he'll be so great folks will call him "Son of the Most High," and God will establish his throne like that of David's.  Also, she learns that her virginity means the Holy Spirit makes this baby, and that means he'll be the closest thing the world's ever seen to a literal Son of God, too, and not just the common title "Son of God" used for God-ordained leaders (Caesar was deemed divi filius).  In other words, this Gospel writer wants to make certain we know Jesus is the Messiah of messiahs.  His weapon of choice: an idiom ("Son of God") turned literal.

Why ask why?  A miraculous birth was never the point.  If Mary is the first known human to join the ranks of rare vertebrates, like a few fish, reptiles, amphibians, and some birds, to parthenogenetically reproduce--or, if she were impregnated with Holy Spirit seed (which might be impossible to distinguish from a parthenogenetic birth since it'd be invisible[?] calcium, chromosomes, and other stuff needed to kickstart pregnancy)--, nothing changes the fact that there were those who believed Jesus to be the messiah, even though he was crucified, dead, and buried.  Like the rest of the books in the New Testament, even if we had not one allusion to the virgin birth of Jesus, nothing changes the fact that there were those who believed Jesus to be the messiah, even though he was crucified, dead, and buried.

Like with so many theological issues, it appears I've constructed a small mountain out of a mole hill.  Of course I had a purpose.  This will be the final newsletter post from me before Christmas.  The Fourth Sunday of Advent is days away.  We talked of signs.  We listened to Zechariah in order to explore what it means to fear God more than fearing others.  Last week, we listened directly to Zechariah's son, John the Baptist, and saw maybe our own prescribed roles in the way he faithfully lived out his prescribed role.  This week is not about a miracle of biology.  Rather, it's about a miracle of faith.

"Hail, Mary, full of grace!  Our Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus"(Luke 1.28, 42).
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death"(Luke 1.43-45).

I recite this well-known petition in the Roman Catholic Rosary, the "Ava Maria," that became prominent in the ascetic life of the church around 1050 in order to drive home the point of these two different tellings of Christ's birth, at least in regards to our Reformed understanding of the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  The point here is actually in the culmination of the whole Advent journey.  

Where were we headed?  

What was supposed to happen?  

And Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word"(Luke 1.38).

Go learn what this means.  There's no greater faith in all of scripture.  That's how we end Advent.  Her faith made way for the big transition, which we'll get to on Christmas Eve.  Without the ENORMOUS faith of this little girl (Hebrew: עלמה, "young woman", Is.7.14), there would be no Christmas (no "Christ," no "mass" in that there would be no body broken for us nor blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins; and, thus, no church militant to freely offer the world what was freely given to her).



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