The Joy of Christmas
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. (Matthew 1:18-24)
So much has been made of the virgin birth. Virgin conception would be more accurate. Very few theologians would accept the concept of a virgin birth anymore. Thomas Jefferson, you know, one of those “Christian” founding fathers of ours, said, “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
The story of the virgin birth of Christ is only in two of the gospels, Matthew and Luke. Mark’s gospel begins with the baptism of Jesus, as does John’s. And all indications would be that the story of the birth of Jesus was thrown in the late first century (around 80 CE) in order to be more competitive with the pagan religions in the middle east. Hell, any god who was worth being a god was born through some kind of miraculous folderol.
Matthew’s book, which came before Luke’s, was trying to make a case for Jesus to the Jews. He was, by using prophecy, trying to prove that Jesus was the long awaited messiah. And the idea of a virgin birth, no doubt, came from a mistranslation of Isaiah. The prophet said that the messiah would be born to a maiden; that’s the word he used in the Hebrew. Now maiden just means young woman with an unmarried status. It doesn’t necessarily mean virgin, although that is a difficult assumption to make in those days. This was slightly before the free-love movement of the sixties. Most young, unmarried women (girls really, they were quite young) were virgins.
So a lot of very hip, logical, modern-thinking theologians reject the idea of a virgin birth—which is NOT the Immaculate Conception, by the way. The Immaculate Conception is something totally different! But I digress. Most modern theologians reject the virgin birth because…well…it’s just implausible. And this seems slightly illogical to me. I mean, you can accept the instantaneous healing of lepers and the blind, you can accept feeding ten thousand people with two loaves and some fish, you can accept someone raising the dead, rising from the dead himself and walking out of a freakin’ tomb, but you have a hard time with a virgin birth. You can accept that God became a human, but you can’t accept a virgin birth. That seems to be straining at a gnat and swallowing an elephant.
I don’t have any particular problem believing in miracles, myself. I believe they happen everyday. But the virgin birth has a certain symbolic meaning as well as putting Christianity right up there with those other religions of the say. By Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts, God became one of us. God’s DNA (whatever that was like) and Mary’s DNA became one. I wonder what God’s recessive genes are like? Anyway, God became totally human, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, which is to say that God is with us…the name, Immanuel. The story of the virgin birth takes God down from some high mountain or the heavens some place and puts God right in our midst.
The message of Jesus, the message of Christianity, aside from whatever those people pounding the pulpit (gotta love alliteration) say, is to recognize the divine in each one of us, to see each person as a child of the creator. And at Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of a savior, we should also celebrate the savior within each one of us. Each of us is divine. You are the savior of the world. So how’s the job going? Getting much saving done? Heal anybody lately?
You know the Greek word used for “healing” in all the gospels can also be translated as “ministering to”, or “comforting”. Are you bringing comfort to anybody? Have you healed yourself from your own pains? You are one of God’s greatest miracles. There is no other in the universe quite like you. One message of the virgin birth is that God’s power is in us. We are the hands of God on earth. You are the savior if you choose to be. So this Christmas, celebrate the birth of a savior. If you want to find God, you need look no further than the mirror.
Look around you. God is with us. That is the real joy of Christmas.