8 years ago, when I was preparing to graduate from seminary and was seeking my first call I was once asked in an interview “How do you feel about the virgin birth, the crucifixion, and the resurrection?”
“How do I FEEL?” I replied, “What do you really want to know?”
“Well… Do you believe in them?”
“Sure.” I said. Did I let out an exasperated sigh or shrug my shoulders? I don’t know. This was by far my craziest interview experience. I’d been asked a comparable question in the phone interview… long, funny story in retrospect… for another time…
It truly doesn’t matter one way or another to me whether Mary was a virgin, and whether Jesus was virginally conceived. I believe that all things are possible with God (or at least I aspire to have such faith and trust) and choose to just go with the story in my preaching and faith life. This, like much in the Bible, can bear truth quite regardless of its factuality.
Having spent a lot of time reading 19th and 20th century theology in 2010, I’ve been wondering about the responsibility of that decision. As I read through old Advent 4 sermons seeking a good one for this Sunday, I wasn’t sure I could say some of the things I once said without adding qualifications in case the modern (or post-modern) consciousness of someone in the room was unable to hear any Gospel through all that myth. Yes, Bultmann, I was listening. But then, I’m also aware that a whole like of qualification doesn’t preach all that well. I found a sermon I could live with and I’ll preach that (with new intro and conclusion) this morning… but I’m not sure what I would write now. It is not so much that my faith has changed (though surely it has somewhat), it is that I am more conscious of the choices I silently made as a preacher to which I never clued in my congregation. And as I am someone who believes in empowering the laity… this is a problem for me.
That said, I was reading through the sermon in the bathtub in the 5 o’clock hour this morning, this is my ritual on preaching mornings during a semester when I don’t have a lot of time for sermon prep during the week, and the words from the angel to Joseph in his dream really struck me, or at least a few of them did “for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
With those words I flashed back to an appointment with a new doctor with whom we were consulting in our fertility journey. On a previous blog I called this doctor “Dr. Day” and contrasted him with “Dr. Night.” Dr. Day sat down at a round table with us and talked to us about how conception happens. Not just the basics that we all learned in health class, but lots of detailed information about all that has to work together in order for a couple to successfully conceive. And after he got through this he said something like “And all this? This is just about 20% of what’s involved. The other 80% is total mystery. We doctors just work on the teeny bit that we understand, but the issue might be in the the large bit that we don’t.” As bleak as that might sound, those words poured over me like grace. Rather than being told “You’ll be pregnant before you know it! I’ll get you pregnant!” He said, “I’ll help you however I can, but… none of us can control this.”
A few months later we were pregnant. In a month with no interventions at all. After nearly 4 years of trying.
But… I think the Holy Spirit, called by some “the Lord, the giver of life”, had a lot to do with it and has a lot to do with every gift of new life. Perhaps it is “God of the gaps” theology, but when you’ve had a month with 87 million superwashed sperm given a fast route to two eggs and still not conceived… you know there’s more at work that we understand when this works. I don’t have to cross my fingers to say that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. He was.
And so was Caroline Grace.