In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)
People with analytical, rational personalities like to stick to proven science and fact. It’s hard for us analytical types to look beyond what we can see and touch, document and quantify.
As to the credibility of this part of the Christmas story, most of us learn the mechanics and the science behind procreation sometime in middle school, if not sooner. It’s common knowledge that a woman who is a virgin cannot conceive a child. Yet we are supposed to believe that a young girl turned up pregnant and no human male was involved. Hmmm, sketchy indeed.
God is not following the accepted rules of science here. First Elizabeth – who was barren and likely even post-menopausal – finds herself to be carrying a long-desired son, in spite of her husband’s doubts. Then Mary, who had never been with a man, was to give birth to the very Son of God. God is putting forth a powerful statement here. He will bring about His purpose through any means He chooses, whether it seems plausible to humanity or not. God thinks outside our boxes- because He can.
This account of Jesus’ conception and birth creates a dilemma for those who only accept what is proven through the scientific method. How can such a conception take place? Are we really supposed to believe in a virgin birth, and why is the virgin birth so important that it is clearly mentioned in Scripture and affirmed as a core teaching of the Christian church in the Apostle’s, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds?
What we believe about the conception and birth of Jesus reflects what we believe to be true about God.
If God is truly omnipotent (all powerful,) then why can’t the Author of creation cause a barren woman to conceive? What would be so impossible for the I AM God to put together a child in a virgin’s womb?
If we believe God is truly omnipresent (everywhere at all times,) how can we wonder where He is, or think that He is limited in any way? We creatures may be constrained by the rules of science and the laws of physics, but God is not confined to our linear, three dimensioned world.
If we believe God is truly omniscient (all knowing,) then how can we fail to have confidence in His good plans?
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 (NRSV)
In this waiting time of Advent, perhaps we should examine our expectations and our understanding of God. Do we try to put Him in a box? Maybe we can look at all the ways- both mundane and extraordinary- that is He present with us? How does He make Himself known?