Friday, December 24, 2010

Born of the Virgin Mary -- Thoughts for Christmas Eve

The idea of the virgin birth or the virginal conception runs contrary to our modern understandings.  It is, we might say, simply myth and legend, and not uncommon in the day and age in which the idea itself was born.  A child born without a father -- a nice cover for an unexplained pregnancy.  I understand the skeptics take on this -- from a pure historical or scientific sense, it doesn't make sense.  But what about the theology inherent in the confession.  Is there something in this confession that  we need to hear?

As I'm finishing up for tonight's service, at which time I'll be celebrating with the congregation the mystery of the incarnation, it is a good to think about these things.  And so I turned to Karl Barth for a moment.  Barth wasn't afraid to wrestle with issues like this.  And in the  Dogmatics in Outline he writes:

If we wish to understand the meaning of 'conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary', above all we must try to see that these two remarkable pronouncements assert that God of free grace became man, a real man.  The eternal Word becomes flesh.  This is the miracle of Jesus Christ's existence, this descent of God from above downwards -- the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.  This is the mystery of Christmas, of the Incarnation.  At this part of the Confession the Catholic Church makes the sign of the Cross.  And in the most various settings composers have attempted to reproduce et incarnatus est. This miracle we celebrate annually, when we celebrate Christmas.

If I to grasp this miracle should will, 
 So stands my spirit reverently still.  
 Such in nuce is God's revelation; we can only grasp it, only hear it as the beginning of all things. (Dogmatics in Outline, p. 96).
The question raised by Christmas concerns our willingness to receive a message that God has truly visited this planet.  We may not understand the nature of this conception and incarnation.  It may go beyond our comprehension of "the facts."  But this need not lead to a denial that the incarnation, the visitation of God in the form of a human cannot and did not take place.  The further question then is this:  if we have been visited by God, how does that message translate into the way we comport ourselves as human beings? 

3 comments:

Brian said...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rita-nakashima-brock-ph-d/the-progressive-importanc_b_796301.html

Rita Nakashima Brock had this article on Huffington Post recently. She's one of Disciple's finest contemporary thinkers/writers.

She's tracking with Bob.

Merry Christmas friends!

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Brian,

Thanks for the pointer to this essay! I shall put a link up to it.

keithwatkinshistorian said...

Bob,
On the evening of Sunday after Christmas, I have read your musings during these days. Thank you for contributing to our understanding of the season. Combining Brock, Barth, and Phillips is quite an achievement.