About that virgin birth...

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Rector

December 22, 2019

Years ago the Episcopal Church changed its name. It had been known for many years as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. But the word Protestant was dropped and we are now simply called the Episcopal Church in the USA.

I am not sure exactly why the word Protestant was dropped. It may have seemed superfluous. It may have even been distasteful to many. Some may have understood the word as synonymous with our more evangelical or fundamentalist brothers and sisters in Christ. But I have come to believe that the Episcopal Church is the most protestant church of all. We remain true to several hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation.  

We believe that the laity are as capable of leading with the wisdom of God as an ordered clergy. We rigorously practice our convictions that the Scriptures and liturgies of the Church should be in the vernacular of the people.  

And we, perhaps more than any other Christian body, believe that the faithful do not need the clergy to tell them what to believe. We are free thinkers and are encouraged, and even expected, to, as Paul has stated, work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  We each struggle with God’s revelation and come to our own understanding of it.
 
This is one of the many reasons why I am proud to be an Episcopalian. I believe that it is better to have a few good questions than all the answers.  But in this freedom of thought we may find ourselves at odds with what the Church offers us as orthodox Christianity.  

I have often mused that I would love to see an extensive survey done of faithful Episcopalians to determine what we truly believe, despite what we may confess each Sunday morning. My suspicion is that there would be more than a little difference between the two. I believe that we would discover that one of the major differences would be rooted in our Gospel reading this morning: the Virgin Birth.  

If the truth were known I am sure there are more than a few of us this morning that struggle with this idea. How can a virgin give birth? The idea is ridiculous. It is absurd.  

Thank God!
 
Thank God that the roots of our salvation are not based on reason; that the source of our hope is beyond our grasp! Thank God that our faith lies in an absurd assertion of God made flesh rather than a systematic, economic, logical exchange between God and humanity. Our salvation is too rich and too profound, to be captured by reason or logic.
 
The hope of our salvation was conceived in the womb of a virgin. The balm of our deliverance was offered to us in the helpless hand of a babe. Our life has been wrought for us in the death of our God in the darkness of Good Friday and offered to us in the explosion of grace on Easter morn. These are absurd notions that defy logic. 

Thank God, because in them we are reminded that the glory of God’s power working in us is infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
 
Look not to the Virgin Birth and expect to figure it out. Try not to parse its meaning but to wrap yourself in its mystery. For it is not what we can explain or expect that God offers.  Grace has no such limits. The Virgin Birth is truly an absurd idea. The belief that an infinite God could be clothed in finite flesh is crazy. The assertion that an ever-living God  would die on a cross is non-nonsensical. The notion that a body could be raised after three days from the grave is outrageous.  

Of course, these things are absurd. But we are not talking of reasonable notions, we are talking about God. God is beyond our ability to reason. God’s purposes, his love and grace are not tethered by our notions of what is logical. Thank God!  
 
So I call you to a vastly counter-cultural idea: stop thinking and simply listen for the breath of God. In this light I offer you the Virgin Birth.  

I rejoice that it is an absurd idea. We find hope and salvation in this absurd idea. We find rest in it. Because if God does such things then it is not so absurd to think that God loves each one of us and has done these things for us! 
 
We live in maddening times. We live in an era of coarse progress that moves us in a relentless pace. We are swept along and aside by events that stagger us. We find ourselves swallowed by stress, consumed by consuming and overwhelmed by the pace of each day.  

We find ourselves this morning in a church hearing a story of an unbelievable event most probably distracted by what remains undone in our holiday preparations. The demands of our lives call so loudly that we miss the whispers of God.
 
This week, as we mark Christmas, step outside of the madness and into absurdity. When the whole earth seems at rest, when the din of our holidays at last seems to be fading, step outside of the moment and listen. Do not let this season pass without a chance to listen, if only for a moment. Listen to the silence; if you must, listen to the silence amidst the noise. Listen to your breath and your heart. Listen to your hopes and your longings.  

Perhaps, just for a moment, you will hear the whimper of an eternal new-born. Just maybe you will hear the cry of an infinite infant; and in that moment you will have heard our hope; our eternal and infinite and, thankfully, our absurd hope.
 
Merry Christmas. 


© 2019, Tom Thoeni