Christmas is here. We got the nice but fake pine trees, we got nativity scene props, we got ancient songs (also called carols) mixed with tunes about reindeers, elves and Santa.
And we also got that interesting Christian belief which not even Christians are all that clear about: The virgin birth of Christ.
Boys and girls, in case you didn’t know it, the God-Man known as Jesus (whose birth is the main reason why people don’t, or shouldn’t, go to school or office on December 25th) is said to be “born of a virgin” i.e. his mum, Mary, did not “have relations” with his dad, Joseph, until after Jesus came out.
The question is: Why?
What is the place of the virgin birth in Christian thought? Why did the Bible writers even put it inside two of the gospels, Matthew and Luke? What else may have been happening?
Is it because God doesn’t like sex?
I recall asking my Secondary school teacher the meaning of ‘virgin’. The guy looked at me with a frown and gave me the 1988 version of “Google it”. He used a tone which implied it was an irresponsible question. One of my smarter pals (who, well, has spent a considerable amount of time studying human biology via selected videos) pulled me aside and explained it in a way which can’t make it onto an online newspaper. My teacher, to the best of my recollection, never asked me if I found out the word’s meaning.
My experience wasn’t the first (and hardly the last) time that authority figures in Asia choose silence and consternation when it comes to sex. The only times it’s discussed in public are super-serious (and very un-sexy) ‘Sex Education’ workshops plus the monthly warnings by angry religious people.
This mind-set encapsulates what I term the ANTI-SEX View of the virgin birth of Jesus. According to this view, God and sex don’t mix. No way the King of Kings and Lord of Lords would have anything to do with nasty shit like caressing, penetrating, sex talk, ejaculating, etc. If you’re ever in a church and the speaker uses the word ‘orgasm’ and ‘foreplay’ in the same sermon, you can buy lottery after that. Not gonna happen. Godliness and sex don’t fit. This is why Jesus had to be born of a woman who hadn’t yet experienced these ooh-so-guilty pleasures.
Closely related to the above is the second view, or what I call the SINLESSNESS View. This view emphasizes the fact that all humanity was under the power of sin; if Jesus was conceived by Joseph (who was himself sinful), he would possess the DNA of this sin (also known as ‘original sin’). The reasoning is that the Saviour of the World needs to be himself sin-less if he hopes to save sinful mankind. Therefore, his origins needs to be from an untainted pure seed (and Joseph’s sperm just don’t cut it).
Thirdly, we have the HELPFUL FICTION View which is that the early Christians simply wove the idea of the virgin birth into their oral tradition i.e. the stories that were passed on by ‘word of mouth’ over the years. So decades passed and eventually Matthew and Luke ratify the birth in their Gospels as a way of ‘confirming’ the divine nature of Christ. The virgin birth, in this view, was elaborate historical fictionalizing and myth-making to bolster a community’s claims to uniqueness.
People who hold to this position are usually naturalists in that they deny the possibility of miracles, resurrections from the dead and, of course, folks born of virgins.
But what if all the three perspectives above, whilst touching on something valid, are wrong? Is there another way to look at the place of the virgin birth in the Christmas narrative?
There is. I guess you may call it the Something Special Is Happening Perspective.
The virgin birth declares that there’s more to the world than we think, that the world isn’t a closed ‘machine’ prodding along cold and empty. If God’s rescue project can involve coming to earth as a baby boy, then this same boy being born of a virgin is like special icing on the cake.
Doing something super-natural and super-special sounds like what a creative, all-loving Person would do as a way of announcing that fresh hope is about to begin. Christmas suggests that the universe isn’t the cold empty void that human logic makes it to be.
A miraculous birth says that there is an extraordinary kindness and goodness about it which reflects its Maker.
Like rainbows, giraffes, language and even sexual pleasure, the virgin birth isn’t 100% ‘necessary’ but it’s good and it brings joy to the world. It’s also like the perfect Christmas present from Someone special.