There’s a word that conjures an immediate response I’m sure. From billboards, “Virgin : Teach Your Kid it’s Not a Dirty Word,” to Virgin America Airlines to put-down, “You’re still a virgin?” What does this hot word mean in your world? Or mine?
Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give youa sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, andwill call him Immanuel. [Isaiah 7:13-14, NIV]
Of course, theologians have since uncovered a less than miraculous explanation of Isaiah’s prophecy since Jewish culture assumed that all young women were virgins. They had a good reason for this assertion since sex outside of wedlock was punishable by death. The Hebrew word for virgin as it is used in Isaiah is Alma, or young woman. When the these verses were translated into the Greek, the word Parthenos was selected which had only one meaning, virgin. (By the way, small piece of trivia, the Parthenon’s name came from this same word and one of the reasons was that this temple was filled with temple prostitutes that were virgins – and apparently disposable after a single use.)
The point in the nativity story, I suppose, is not that Mary was a virgin, since that was the norm, the point was that she was impregnated supernaturally. In fact, scripture articulates that Joseph, her fiancee did not have sex with her until after the birth of Jesus [Matthew 1:25]. And for many people, this miracle stops them in their tracks. And some denominations take Mary’s virginity to the next level, saying she was made sinless as well, creating an immaculate conception. [For more on this topic, see Let Us Reason Ministries online.]
We’re living in a time of science and reason and miracles of any kind are always suspect. In my mind, the entire concept of God providing a propitiation or atonement for the choices that created a state of human separation from God is a gigantic miracle in and of itself. The methodology would have to be out of our ken in order to make it work.
Ancient humans seemed to naturally understand the idea of atonement, sacrificing all kinds of animals and daughters to appease the gods, the sun, the weather, or whatever else they could not understand. They seemed quite clear about the basic idea of sowing and reaping. Even Karma, an Eastern idea of cycles, supports the supposition that there are repercussions to our choices (both good and bad).
The virgin birth is actually somewhat inconsequential to me. The idea that God became fully human is much more intriguing. The idea that fully human God (as Jesus), came as an atonement is even more absorbing.
I just want to think about that today.