Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent Reflections: Virgin Births and Sons of God

An article I read recently at Rival Nations (highly recommended, by the way) drove home an important point regarding the way Jesus is presented to us in scripture. It's something that we've forgotten, because we lack an awareness of the context the Gospels were written in.

In Jesus' time, divine conceptions and virgin births were commonplace for men of power and importance. Imbuing them with these qualities reinforced their right to rule over the people. After all, if you're the son of Apollo, as was said of "Son of God" Augustus Caesar, then who would ever have the authority to challenge your status? It's the divine right of kings taken to the next level.

Skeptics, then, might say that the Jesus story was simply a poor copy of what was common at the time, in an attempt to give him legitimacy as a moral authority. But I think that gets the intention backward. Rather, stating that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and born of a virgin delegitimizes the claim that the temporal powers of the day claimed for themselves. It was a deeply radical political statement that announced to the rulers of Jesus' world that they held no true authority, that their claims to divinity were hollow, because the one who embodied those truths had arrived. And he was not a powerful man born in a palace, but rather a child of peasants, born among animals in the stink of a stable. If there's a clearer example of God's promise to exalt the lowly and bring down the powerful, I can't think of it.

We sometimes forget how political the Gospels were. We see them today only as religious texts, removed from the current events of their time. Yet they were a bold confrontation of a political system in which the poor lived under the violent occupation of a distant and powerful empire. Jesus rejected that power. His reign was one of love, and his kingdom was not of this world. He came to serve, not to be served. He turned everything upside down.

And so today, when we see self-proclaimed Christians striving for temporal political power, promoting violence and oppression, and using the power of the state to force others into compliance to live by a certain set of values, we can see that the message of Christ has been lost at best, and twisted at worst. Jesus is not about forcing people to do things his way from the top down, but by persuading them with love from the bottom up. Embracing the poor, the outcast, the forgotten. In short, when Christianity comforts rather than challenges those in power, then Christianity has lost its way.

This Advent season, may we reflect on the humility of Mary's yes, and on the humility of a God-man who was born in the humblest of conditions, embraced friend and enemy alike, washed the feet of his own followers, and gave his life for all. That is the Good News of the Kingdom.

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