A Virgin Shall Conceive


When I first started this blog, I anticipated writing more posts about fiction, understood from a Christian worldview. As it’s happened, I’ve ended up writing more posts about the Christian worldview than I do about fiction. And what better time to do so. I mean, Christmas is not exclusively a religious holiday, but it nevertheless does have religious significance. And not just religious. Christian meaning!

We aren’t celebrating the birth of any old god. Rather, Christmas rivets our attention on Jesus, the Christ, who entered the world as a baby.

The first miraculous part of His coming was His conception. His mother Mary was a virgin. Clearly anyone reading the Christmas story must question this. I mean, how many virgins do we know who get pregnant?

Interestingly, C. S. Lewis addresses this very subject in his book Miracles. This volume is much more of an apologetic for God and His work in the world than I had realized. As an aside, I can see more clearly why Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, called himself the anti-Lewis. But because Lewis had himself been an atheist, he could anticipate the arguments an atheist would make against the Supernatural.

Unsurprisingly, the miracle Lewis refers to with some frequency is the virgin birth. Here are some of his thoughts in answer to the common atheist argument that people of old believed in miracles because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have now.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did.

Good stuff, important to recall when we are approaching the celebration of the Incarnation. At every turn concerning Christ’s birth, there was a miracle. It’s helpful to remember that the things which seem impossible are impossible, except for God who can do the impossible.

This post was inspired by one that appeared here in December, 2007.

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Then There Is Christmas


All too quickly Thanksgiving Day has passed and we are racing on toward Christmas. I know when I was a kid, I looked so forward to Christmas. As I grew older, however, Thanksgiving began to take first place as the holiday I most loved. Now I don’t have any favorites. Both are great in their own way.

The thing about Christmas, it’s pretty hard to hide the “Christ” part of the holiday. Oh, sure, some people try in various ways, but in the end somehow the idea still seeps through that there is religious significance to the day.

Yes, we most likely have all heard that Christmas had pagan roots and practices that Christians co-opted, but the fact is, if Christ had not been born, there would be no followers of Jesus to impact the culture so much that such a day as Christmas overshadowed the other winter celebrations and practices.

In the twenty-first century Christmas is as much under attack in the US as it has ever been, largely because God and His work in the world is under attack. More and more people simply do not believe in Him—or believe in Him the way the Bible reveals Him.

Over and over I hear how impossible things like miracles are because there’s no verification of them, apart from the Biblical record which is discounted because, after all, the people that wrote it were superstitious dimwits who didn’t know anything about science.

What those who use this approach don’t realize is that the people of the first century were people just like us. They were not imagining God when there was a gap in their understanding of the way things work, a lack of scientific knowledge, as so many atheists assert.

C. S. Lewis, who was himself an atheist for a good portion of his life, understood this argument against belief in God better than someone who has only heard others declare it. He wrote a whole book dealing with miracles, which seem to trip up so many atheists. Lewis looked particularly at the Incarnation, specifically at the virgin birth, as evidence for God.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did. (from Miracles by C. S. Lewis, emphasis mine)

Pretty clear. The issue isn’t that our scientific knowledge has advanced so much we no longer believe in the supernatural, but that our understanding of God has diminished. Anyone who believes that God is all powerful has no problem understanding that He can do what seems extraordinary and would not happen apart from Him.

A virgin birth if there is no god? Of course that would be impossible. But God changes the equation. Factoring Him into history, things that could not have happened become understandable, even expected in a surprising kind of way. We don’t know what God will do or when He will do it, but we know that He acts in ways that aren’t limited by the physical laws He established and upholds. So a virgin birth? Sure. A resurrected Savior? Absolutely. A returning king? Without a doubt!

Published in: on November 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm  Comments (11)  
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What Mary Didn’t Know


nativity-926289-mIt’s kind of interesting that in a pre-ultrasound society, Mary knew she was having a boy. No other pregnant women of her day knew the sex of the child, but Mary knew. She even knew her son’s name before his birth. She also knew, though undoubtedly many in her community suspected otherwise, that she was still a virgin—the impending birth of her son notwithstanding.

And finally, Mary knew what the angel had told her: she was blessed, her conception would be miraculous, the Child would be known as the Son of the Most High, He’d be King. If she and Joseph compared notes about their separate angelic visitations, she may also have known that He’d be called Immanuel—God with us.

That leaves a lot of unknown. Mary didn’t know, for example, when precisely she’d give birth. In other words, she didn’t know Christmas Eve was Christmas Eve. She most likely gratefully lay down that night in the animal stall, simply glad the long trip from Nazareth was over and she could ease the pain in her back.

When did her contractions begin? Was her labor long? Hard? Did Joseph rush to a relative and ask for a midwife to attend her?

When at last her son arrived, had been cleaned up, the umbilical cord cut, and she’d delivered the afterbirth, did she feed him, then place him in the only safe place at hand—one of the feeding troughs—so she could finally get a little sleep? Because she didn’t know she and her little family were about to have visitors.

Mary didn’t know that while she brought this new precious life into the world, an angel had appeared to a handful of shepherds to announce her son’s birth. She didn’t know about the multitude of the heavenly beings who would join in to praise God and to deliver a blessing to humankind.

Days later, when she and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, she didn’t know about Simeon or about Anna waiting their whole lives for her son who they recognized as the Messiah.

Throughout Jesus’s life, there was so much Mary didn’t know or understand. In fact, “Mary, Did You Know?” a fairly recent Christmas song with lyrics and music written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, addresses this point.

The song asks rhetorically if Mary knew “her Baby Boy” would walk on water, give sight to the blind, calm the storm with His hand, and ultimately, that He was the Creator, the King who would one day rule the nations, the perfect Lamb, the Great I Am.

The fact is, she didn’t know any of the miraculous things Jesus would do, and when she asked Him to help at the wedding when they’d run out of wine, it appears from what Jesus said to her that her asking was more indicative of her not knowing who He was than her knowing.

He was special—that fact was undeniable. But after an angelic visitation, an impossible conception that led to an incredible birth, shepherds bowing to her son, prophetic words spoken over Him in the temple, wisemen traveling from some far off country to give him expensive gifts, Mary still didn’t know who Jesus was.

She knew what she’d seen and heard. She stored it all up to think about later. But not until Jesus died, not until He rose again, not until—most likely—she, along with around 500 others, saw Him ascend into heaven did she get it. We know she did because she was in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon the group of Jesus’s faithful followers (Acts 1:14).

In the end, what Mary didn’t know, she would learn. Praise God that He gives us a lifetime to get it right—to respond to His call, to accept what He’s told us about Himself.

Proof, atheists always say. Where is the proof, the evidence that your God exists? Mary had all the evidence in the world—she was part of that evidence—and still she didn’t believe. Until she did.

May this Christmas be the day when more blind eyes will open, when more broken and contrite hearts will believe and know what previously they couldn’t understand: Jesus, Messiah, has come to rescue and to save!

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 6:15 pm  Comments Off on What Mary Didn’t Know  
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Then God Said . . .


Happy winter. This, the shortest day of the year, marks the “official” start of the winter season. And for once, it feels like it here in SoCal.

December is often the interlude between our short and long rainy seasons, the first being a few weeks in November and the latter taking up most of February and sometimes part of January or March.

This year things are different.

For one, the climatologists were predicting we would be in a drought. Last year we had a surprising year of “normal” rainfall (most years either give us a shortfall or an abundance), but that, the experts said, would be followed up this year with more drought—the pattern we’d fallen into previously.

Instead of drought, we’re looking at perhaps the wettest December in recorded history here in the LA basin. My local paper quotes one expert as saying, “This is a very unusual event. Nobody really saw it coming.”

Well, “nobody,” of course, leaves out God. But we’ve gotten pretty good at doing that here in America, I think. Sure, we bring Him up during “the spiritual season” as the USA Weekend magazine article “How Americans Imagine God” called it. But not one person they quoted—and the article was primarily a composite of what people said in answer to the title question—said God is sovereign or Creator or intimately involved in the affairs of men.

“God is love” came out as the “one gleaming, common thread” weaving throughout the answers. “Christians, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists alike describe a loving presence who offers a pathway to goodness, peace and brotherhood.”

So god, the consensus seems to be, is all about the feel-good stuff. The rest?

Apparently nature, at least, has a mind of her own. From a public works spokesman quoted in today’s weather article: “[Slow, steady precipitation] doesn’t cause as much problems as when the weather decides to drop a lot of rain in a short amount of time.” (Emphasis mine.) Of course, this man may have been speaking euphemistically, but I’ve heard many similar references regarding nature, as if the elements create a collective conscience that dictates things like hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and yes, rainstorms.

The Bible makes it clear that God is in fact in control of nature. He brought the flood Noah and his family lived through. He withheld rain for seven years in Egypt and later did the same for three years in Israel. He made the sun stand still and a shadow reverse direction. Jesus Himself calmed a storm with just a word.

None of this should be surprising because God laid the foundations of the earth, after all. He counts the stars and knows them by name, feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies.

And an impossible thing like a virgin giving birth? No problem for God because He rules what He created.

If He spoke the world into being, can He not speak a little rain—unexpected as it was to all the students of His work—into being as well?

How topsy-turvy our world has become when we assign god (however you understand him or her to be) to that little brotherly-kindness corner over there; nature, that little weather corner over there; and Man, pretty much the rest of the room.

Apparently we have forgotten, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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. . . And Bring Forth a Son


More from Miracles by C. S. Lewis:

Christianity does not involve the belief that all things were made for man. It does involve the belief that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. … The sceptic asks how we can believe that God so “came down” to this one tiny planet. The question would be embarrassing if we knew (1) that there are rational creatures on any of the other bodies that float in space; (2) that they have, like us, fallen and need redemption; (3) that their redemption must be in the same mode as ours; (4) that redemption in this mode has been withheld from them. But we know none of them. … If it is maintained that anything so small as the Earth must, in any event, be too unimportant to merit the love of the Creator, we reply that no Christian ever supposed we did merit it. Christ did not die for men because they were intrinsically worth dying for, but because He is intrinsically love, and therefore loves infinitely. (emphasis mine, excerpted from chapter 7, p. 53)

It is therefore inaccurate to definite a miracle as something that breaks the laws of Nature. It doesn’t. … If God annihilates or creates or deflects a unit of matter He has created a new situation at that point. Immediately all Nature domiciles this new situation, makes it at home in her realm, adapts all other events to it. It finds itself conforming to all the laws. If God creates a miraculous spermatozoon in the body of a virgin, it does not proceed to break any laws. The laws at once take it over. Nature is ready. Pregnancy follows, according to all the normal laws, and nine months later a child is born. … The moment it [the miraculous] enters her [Nature’s] realm it obeys all her laws. Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary process of textual corruption [unless the Holy Spirit also provides miraculous preservation], miraculous bread will be digested. … A miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without results. Its cause is the activity of God: its results follow according to Natural law. (excerpts from chapter 8, pp. 60-61)

As Scripture indicates, God’s infinite love prompted Him to miraculous activity: sending His Son to earth as a baby. And so, Christmas. 😀

A Virgin Shall Conceive


Nativity Scene, Photographer: Ian BrittonI suppose it’s natural around Christmas time to think more about God, especially God with us, God Incarnate, God taking the form of a baby. And certainly my recent discussions regarding the existence of God have propelled my thoughts in that direction as well.

Now I am reading C. S. Lewis’s book Miracles which is much more of an apologetic for God and His work in the world than I had realized. Interestingly, I can see more clearly why Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, calls himself the anti-Lewis. The thing is, because Lewis had himself been an atheist, he could anticipate the arguments an atheist would make against the Supernatural.

Unsurprisingly, the miracle Lewis refers to with some frequency is the virgin birth. Here are some of his thoughts in answer to the argument that people of old believed in miracles because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have now.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did.

There’s more. Good stuff, important to recall when we are approaching the celebration of that which is impossible except for the God with whom all things are possible.

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