For the next couple of weeks I am commenting on the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This is for my benefit as much as anything. My remarks are organized only because they are following the outline of the creed. So while they are not systematic, I hope they are not rambling either! I’m giving myself a refresher course and you’re invited to come along. And as you do I trust these few words may contribute something to your understanding of what it is to have faith in the God of Jesus.
There is hardly a teaching of the Church more inaccessible to modern reason than the virgin birth. The problem is simple. Conception and birth are a process of natural life which bring a person into existence who had no prior existence. Yet the Church confesses that the Son was born of Mary and has existed eternally just as God is eternal.
Faith may confess this article of the creed with assurance but it does not remove the stumbling block. But if it is the task of faith to make the Son of God accessible to the world, then some way through the obstacle of reason must be found.
Some would argue that these stories are nothing but reflections of the mythic traditions of the Hellenistic world. But this interpretation does not do justice to the forward looking, eschatological character of the revelation in Christ which is anything but a falling back into myth. The infancy narratives which are contained in Matthew and Luke are subject to the revelation of Jesus Christ as the living Word of God. In Jesus something entirely new has happened. The restraint of the birth narratives makes no room for the details of conception or the actual birth. What matters to the gospel writers is that God has revealed Himself in the flesh. What can be said of this human birth cannot be said of any other human birth, yet it was as real a birth as yours or mine. For in Jesus God does not begin a new ‘uber’ race but a new humanity.
Therefore, the Church cannot acquiesce to the insistence of reason that the virgin birth be dismissed from our confession. For our confession preserves the mystery of the Word made flesh, in all lowliness, meekness and humility. The confession of the virgin birth, which includes the poor, lowly girl who submitted to God’s will for her, guards against the presumption of reason and the will of man which refuses to receive the essential message of the Incarnation; God’s salvation comes – and is willed – in the form of man’s lowliness and weakness without any kind of pride, even unto death on the cross.
Tomorrow: “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried…”
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”