I know this is an oddly timed blog on the virgin birth, but I think the absence of any "Christmas spirit" may actually serve us well to approach this topic afresh.
Mary, a virgin, conceives before she “comes together” with Joseph, as Matthew puts it (1:18). This is the miracle we call the virgin birth of Christ. But what’s the big deal about this birth? Myths like this must have existed before Jesus came along. Just think of the pagan myths that involved virgin births like this…oh wait, there aren’t any.
Yes, it is true that there are pagan myths where a deity impregnates a woman through a sexual encounter or where contact with an inanimate object mysteriously results in the conception of a child (my favorite is an Aztec myth where a woman is impregnated by feathers).
While these stories are often cited as pre-Christian “virgin births,” I think we can all see the substantial differences. In fact, to compare the two is very much, pardon the cliché, like comparing apples to oranges. Or if we want to avoid similes and metaphors all together, to compare pagan myths with the virgin birth is to compare worldviews that are fundamentally in contradiction to one another.
If you read the accounts of these pagan myths, you will find many similarities. Often these tales include evil, capricious, and sexually promiscuous gods who are more comparable to marvel superheroes/villains than to the omnipotent Creator of the Bible. These “miraculous” events tend to be immoral and braggadocios demonstrations of the deity's superpowers.
In contrast, when you approach the biblical narrative, there is one God. He is not just another player in the story, for he has shaped the story. He is not corrupt or capricious, for he is the very standard of good, justice, and beauty. And finally, we see that the God of the Bible is up to something very big in the virgin birth — far bigger than saving face.
Matthew tells us that his gospel is the “book of the beginning (or genesis if you will)” of Jesus; It’s interesting for Matthew to put it this way. Moses uses the exact same phrase in chapter two of the Book of Genesis when talking about the creation of the world (2:4) and also in chapter five when he details Adam’s family tree (5:1). So, Matthew’s point, and he is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, is that Jesus is a second Adam as well as the start of a new creation. The birth of Jesus, then, should be less Hallmark Channel or Charlie Brown’s Christmas and more Garden of Eden in our minds.
Jesus has come to begin something new and to fix something profoundly broken. How does God key us into it? He does something that hasn’t been done since the Creation of the heavens and the earth. He creates a man by the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever wondered how Mary became pregnant without a male counterpart? It was not like the perverse myths of the pagans, rather, God created something from nothing in order to provide the seed necessary for life. Now that’s what you call an attention-grabber! God sampled from one of his grandest of acts, creation, to alert us that Jesus was here. And this Jesus is the forgiver of sins, the mediator between God and man, the LORD of and the Son of David, the final sacrifice, the great high priest, and the Son of God.
You see, the virgin birth is no myth, isolated from reality. It is an act of the God who made reality and is re-making it through Jesus.