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The Virgin Birth

First in a series about 'Simple Things.'

by Everett Wilson
December 23, 2006

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The Virgin Birth
Christmas Eve seems a  relevant time to mention the virgin birth of Christ. For several weeks now  the virgin birth  has been proclaimed, musically, throughout the shopping centers of the western world. Apparently marketers have discovered that terms like "round yon virgin mother and child" and "offspring of the virgin's womb" prompt Christmas shoppers to spend more than they would otherwise. 
 
Even those who think that the virgin birth is impossible as historical fact at least acknowledge that it is part of our cultural history. 
 
Whether or not you accept it  as fact depends partly on how the question is framed.  For example, if  you were to ask shoppers at random if they believed Mary had a baby because she was a good-time girl, you might get a poke in the eye from the more pious of them and shocked disapproval from others who think you are a tasteless jerk for asking.    
 
But if you were to ask a more abstract question, such as whether a woman can have a baby without somehow or other linking with a male human—whether in bed or in a test-tube—the answer would generally be no. 
 
It's  unlikely that even  Mary's mother believed her daughter's outlandish tale at first. Would yours?
 
"Simple" in this usage does not mean easy to believe, but easy to understand. The first fourteen verses of the gospel of John, asserting that the Word of God became a human being, are easier to believe than to understand;  the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, reporting  the virgin birth, are easier to understand than believe.
 
We know what a virgin is and we know what birth is, so "virgin birth" has a straightforward meaning. You may have decided that it could not have happened, so it did not happen;   but if it could occur, and it was reported that it did occur, you would know exactly what was being reported, whether you believed it or not: a woman who had never experienced a sexual relationship with a male had given birth anyway.
 
That is the situation you are in with the virgin birth. If you have decided that the virgin birth did not happen, you do not believe the reports. Period. 
 
For some folks, no period.  They  seek meaning in the birth stories while rejecting the main premise of the story-tellers--at best a specious exercise. You had just as well put Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in the manger scene at your church, because to you Rudolph, Frosty, and The Grinch are on equal footing with the "offspring of the Virgin's womb"--equally imaginary.  A fairy tale may  teach very well; Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch are all simple stories that teach.  The difference between them and the gospel stories is that their authors  never insisted that their stories  in the stories really happened, and  the gospel writers do. 
 
Believing in the virgin birth of Jesus is a simple thing. So is not believing it. Not believing it while you are celebrating it must be pretty complicated, but I don't know that from experience. I have always believed it, along with several hundred million others who, in the minds of those who disagree with us, ought to know better.    

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