Christmas reveals God’s thumbprint | VailDaily.com
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Christmas reveals God’s thumbprint

Rev. Dr. Jack Van Ens

Identity theft races out of control like a wildfire ripping through a parched forest. Brokerage houses advise clients to change passwords on accounts every three months to stymie anyone from stealing confidential information about their savings. Yet identity theft is escalating. To protect against fraud, banks and financial institutions place inkpads before customers. We press our inky thumbprint onto white paper. Fingerprints, because they are unique, form defensive lines against criminals who pilfer personal information.Christmas reveals how God has impressed His thumbprint on our lives. It’s His badge of authenticity, a pledge of how vitally interested God is in us. Where do we find God’s thumbprint? Check out Jesus, the Christ. He is God’s mark of personal identity. Christ, “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary,” as The Apostles’ Creed declares, is the flawless indicator of who God is and how He acts. Why do evangelical Christians like myself link Christ’s incarnation (a fancy word from Latin which means God embodied Himself in baby Jesus) with the virgin birth? After all, most people harbor intellectual hang-ups believing a virgin mother could give birth. They dismiss such biblical teaching as elusive poetry that is pretty and fanciful. So they regard Jesus’s virgin birth as pretty fanciful. The poet John Donne sounded quaint and gullible when he described Mary as the mother “Whose wombe was a strange heav’n, for there/God clothes himselfe and grew.”Moreover, since The Pill came to market, isn’t this notion of Mary’s virginity rather prissy, a throwback to primitive eras when the Roman Catholic Church squeamishly regarded sex as naughty? Since The Pill makes it possible to sacrifice virginity without getting pregnant, doesn’t belief in the Virgin Mary “being great with child,” as the venerable King James Bible details her pregnancy, sound ludicrously outdated?Besides, “virgin birth” is confusing. What actually occurred within Mary was a virgin conception. Jesus’s birth occurred as normally as any baby’s arrival. Mary’s contractions forced fetus Jesus to slide through the birth canal before delivery. The Bible claims Mary’s conception, not Jesus’s birth, came about miraculously and unusually. God’s spirit, personal divine vitality, impregnated her.Matthew and Luke report the virgin birth. By a dream, an angel announced to Joseph “that who is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Luke identifies the angel as Gabriel who calmed Mary, confirming she was carrying Jesus, even though she was “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph” (Luke 1:27).Evidently, these Gospel writers didn’t want Christians to waffle over the virgin conception. They described what happened to Mary, using different literary frames in which they pictured the virgin conception. Luke interprets Jesus’s birth from a family values perspective. He likes homey nativity references. He charms us with poetic reveries about Jesus sung by Zechariah, Mary and Simeon. Luke sets Mary and Joseph beside a manger, surrounded by rustic shepherds.Matthew didn’t write as if he hails from Iowa’s heartland, like Luke’s style suggests. He’s cosmopolitan, a sophisticated chap who desires to link Jesus’s birth to the Torah traditions orthodox Jews affirm. Matthew provides universal incidents, depicting mysterious Persian wise men bowing before the infant Christ. Worldly Herod unleashes genocide against young Jewish males. Matthew links the ancient, wise Torah prophecies of the Messiah to Jesus. Compared to Luke’s smalltown sights, his scope is universal, wide as the world.Unusual, isn’t it, that these writers with differing perspectives on the nativity center on a striking, mysterious, non-negotiable truth – Jesus’s virgin birth? Why get so exercised about such a strange, humanly impossible belief?Some skeptics deny Mary’s virgin conception because ancient myths often report similar births. Epic literature spun legends about divine, irregular conceptions featuring mythic Perseus, plus Rome’s founders – Romulus and Remus. Historians recorded how Plato and Alexander had virgin births. A hagiographer of Augustus stretched history’s limits. He blathered about how the god Apollo mated with Augustus’s sleeping mother. The ancient world accepted as fact gods cavorting with nubile women. Heavenly lust penetrated earthly pleasure. Therefore, argue the skeptics, we should regard the biblical virgin birth narratives as folklore, a mishmash of spiritual hooey.Early Christian believers testified to a real virgin birth, but not to prove how Christ is God. They had few reservations about a human becoming divine, which is our 21st century hang-up. Pagan legends reported gods cruising after virgins, like an airplane burning fuel over an airport but never landing. The gods skimmed over humanity. By affirming Mary’s miraculous conception, Christians declare God became human at the nativity. Jesus’ thumbprint matches God’s. Reared among highly conservative Midwestern Christians, I took for granted that Jesus was divine – not godly, but God. Some of my mentors, though, didn’t come to grips with Christ’s humanity. They claimed boy Jesus knew he was God. Consequently, in puberty Jesus’ perfect divinity spared him from having urges towards girls. As a teen, did Jesus magically escape the trauma of finding his identity?Malcolm Muggeridge, a British pundit, tells how he bumped into the reality of God becoming man, which is the heart of Christmas. “How extraordinary that I should have found it,” he exclaims, “not in flying up to the sun like Icarus, but in God coming down to me in the Incarnation.” Skeptic Muggeridge perceived God’s thumbprint. Merry Christmas! God has jumped into our skin. By a virgin, mind you! The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is an ordained Presbyterian minister who heads Creative Growth Ministries, which aims to enhance Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’s book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.


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