Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” – Luke 1:34-35
Of all the miracles ascribed to Jesus throughout the New Testament, the most miraculous to me is still his fulfillment of the prophecy that a Hebrew Messiah would be born of a virgin. My disbelief of miracles such as this was one of the main reasons that for decades of my life I steadfastly refused to identify as “Christian” — and why I used to envy the “faith of my fathers.” Going back a millennium or so ago, it seems as though reconciling empirical knowledge with the miracles described throughout the Bible would have been less of a stretch to one’s credulity. Or so I thought. As it was, belief in the “magical thinking” of the Bible created a litmus test that I simply couldn’t pass — and out of respect for the Christian faith, I couldn’t sign on with a sense of integrity.
My absolutism changed in a moment of epiphany during the most unlikely of circumstances. Carol and I were at a dinner theater performance with some congregation members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Boise, where I had tentatively begun dipping my toes in its liturgical waters. At some point in the dinner conversation, the topic turned to the Immaculate Conception, and I was shocked to hear a respected and long-standing member of All Saints state, very matter-of-factly, that he’d never believed in that particular miracle. “Excuse me,” I remember asking, “but isn’t that kind of a de rigor article of faith?” While I don’t remember his reply, I do remember coming away thinking that the particulars of Christ’s birth ultimately don’t enhance or detract from what really matters most to me today as a professed Christian: the relevance and power of the Gospel Message, and Jesus Christ as the Word Made Flesh…however conceived.
These days, even as we are dazzled by the pace of scientific discovery, I find myself less pushed around by the need to reconcile the miraculous and the scientific. Quite the contrary: that duality itself seems more suspect to me these days than belief in miracles. In fact, the more we learn about the origins of the universe, the more susceptible we should be to the miraculous, and the more our faith should reflect the words of Paul:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Lord, you give us solace in our faith. Thank you for sending your Son among us to teach us your will and may the power of the Holy Spirit dwell in us as it did in Mary. Amen.