I walked into the police station and one of the officers said to me, ‘Should you still be on about the Virgin Birth?’. He likes to stir and there was a twinkle in his eye. I have to think fast when chatting to him and often think of better things to say afterwards! ‘If the guy rises from the dead, then the Virgin Birth isn’t impossible; I’d start with the resurrection before I ever mentioned the Virgin Birth’, I replied.
He looked at me with that quizzical glance that suggested ‘Round 2’. ‘Well’, he said. ‘What about consent? Could Mary really give it?’ ‘Yes, she might have been scared of the angel but God didn’t force himself that’s why he sent Gabriel to ask her.’ This time he wasn’t convinced and scowled in his sceptical way, wondering at my intelligence for believing any of this story.
More discussions will undoubtedly happen.
That’s the way of Christmas, it seems to me. It is either commercial and meaning free. Or it is ‘Christmas light’ with the focus on babies and presents. Or it is engaged and tackled for what it is – a story of layers – as are all historical stories – but this story of God and humanity either produces mockery or worship. This is an incredulous story which leads to either derision or devotion.
And because we tell biographies chronologically, we all tell such stories from parents having children to them becoming adults – from birth to death. It is normal and natural. Except in this case, it isn’t normal or natural for a man to rise from the dead, never to die again. The world has never been able to put Jesus back into the grave and so the story of his life and that includes his early days takes on significance – and things that might have been kept quiet, things that were scandalous, dangerous get seen in a new light.
Mary understood the ostracising she’d face. Who would believe her story? Joseph needed an angelic word that things were not as they appeared. No one helped a pregnant woman in a town full of relatives from both sides of the couple. Later there are stories of fleeing to safety, exile, political oppression, fear, death. Time and time again when aspects of this story are interrogated, the answers can seem weird and fantastical. And yet the followers of this Jesus still gather together at this time to recall that for us God in Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.
All religions have God or gods interacting with people. Why are we here? The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.’ (Galatians 4:4,5 ESV) Behind the scepticism, the disbelief, the questions, and all the wrapping paper and presents, we are here because God has entered the world as one of us through the birth of Jesus so that we – all people – might be purchased, bought back, redeemed – from the clutches of selfishness, sin, fear, death for life as God’s children.
The scepticism the world senses, I think, is the mystery that in the baby Jesus we meet God. The birth of Jesus is the beginning of the personal mission of God – as one of us – to sacrifice himself for us – so that we might live with him. Derision or devotion? Myth and mockery or fact and faith? Everyone sees and hears this story but it is only by the light of an empty tomb by which the truth is revealed. God is graciously rescuing humanity from darkness and delusion, death and despair – and that is why I can say that Jesus is yours – and the world’s – best – and only Christmas present worth having. … (And I do hope you get some great Christmas presents!)
- Galatians 4:4 - 5