Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Virginal Conception and Other Preposterous Things

Annunciation Window, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin
It has become traditional this time of year for some clergyperson or theologian to confidently declare that “modern” people can no longer believe in such a thing as the virginal conception (virgin birth) of Jesus. It goes against the way we know things work.

The virginal conception does seem preposterous. But, it always has. It’s not like people in the past had no idea how babies get made. I expect Joaquim and Anne found it preposterous when their daughter first tried to explain her pregnancy. I don't believe glibly in the virginal conception of Jesus. I've had and will have my reservations, questions, and doubts about this and other aspects of the Christian Creed. But, I figure once you believe in something as preposterous as resurrection or that God loves you and desires communion with you; you're in for a pound, you might as well toss in the penny.

But, preposterous as the virginal conception sounds, I find other Christian teachings more preposterous and harder to accept given how we know the world works:
  • Jesus is the measure of all things? The turn-the-other-cheek guy from Nazereth who got himself crucified?
  •  I must love my enemies and pray for them, repaying evil with good?
  • I must receive every stranger as though he or she is an angel sent by God.
  • We are expected to live nonviolently in such a world as ours? Peace is always better than violence?
  • Humility is a virtue? Patience?
  • Self-control is better than self-indulgence?
  • Forgiveness is always better than revenge or resentment?
  • God desires mercy, not sacrifice?
  • Money is "unrighteous" and dangerous to my soul? That my best investment is to give as much of it away as I can?
  • Love, joy, and peace are REAL?
  • God delights in the world and so should I?
  • God will restore all things to the goodness for which they were created?
  • All people are created equal? Including the weak, the feeble, the handicapped, the vulnerable, and the poor? Is there any other "truth" that is less self-evident or more easily contradicted by reason and scientific evidence? The closest I can get to that is we are, all of us, equally created in the image of God, equally loved by God, and equally the objects of Christ’s redeeming. It’s still pretty hard to believe from a purely empirical perspective.
  • My salvation is wrapped up in my care for the least of these?
  • We will be judged based on things like the above?
Heck, believing that the Mystery at the heart of it all chose to become incarnate in a particular time and place from a particular girl named Mary without the usual male contribution is a relative piece of cake. In truth, most of the time I am only able to entertain these other preposterous things precisely because I believe God has done something so preposterous as being born of the Virgin Mary for us and for our salvation.

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