Monday, December 24, 2012

Why don't we celebrate the first time Jesus was born?

Sean Ewart

From left to right: Mary, God, Joseph the Cuckold.

It's Christmas. For those of us who are thus far unpersuaded of the evidence for the Christian conception of the divine, the 25th of December is an awkward day. Especially while interacting with Christian family members, Christmas is one of those days where the very real divide between our beliefs becomes incredibly evident.

"Remember, Jesus is the reason for the season."

While many of my irreligious compatriots are quick to point out the pagan beginnings of the Christmas tradition, I have chosen another route. Especially because educated Christians are well versed in the pagan beginnings, the argument that "your holiday is just a pagan crossover" doesn't hold much water. Even I'll admit that when you're an underground cult, it makes a lot of sense to use cultural camouflage - just look at the Mormons.

Instead let us approach the Biblical narrative as it is written. The essential plot points are by now well established: Mary and Joseph are engaged; Mary gets pregnant by God; Joseph gets a vision that the child will be the Messiah; Jesus is born in a stable (or whatever).

But let us not forget a crucial detail. Jesus, according to Christian doctrine (Catholic and Protestant), is God. Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jesus is the son of God, akin to Hercules; Muslims think Jesus was a man who received prophetic words from God; Jews think the man was a nutter; but Christians believe Jesus is actually God in human form.

Taking that into account, the details of the classic Christmas story become slightly more... confusing.

Mary and Joseph are engaged; Mary gets pregnant by God; Joseph gets a vision that the child will be the Messiah; Mary gives birth to God. In other words, God impregnated Mary with himself. Just let that sink in. Where is the traditional, family value message in that?

Why did God need a virgin for this process? Why did he pick a woman who was engaged to be married? Why did he decide that being physically born was the best option? Is God incapable of taking on human form without first becoming a zygote?

In fact, if the Biblical narrative is taken at face value (as it is done in nearly every church... ever), we know that God is capable of taking on the form of a human without first needing to impregnate an engaged virgin with himself. Genesis 32:22-32 describes an instance when Jacob, who would become known as Israel, fought with a man... who turned out to be God.

Granted, there is very little preamble to the story. All we know is that Jacob was alone in his camp and he wrestled all night with a man. When daylight came, the man told Jacob he was God. Fair enough. And it is entirely possible that there was a woman in the time of the Patriarchs who was likewise engaged, a virgin, impregnated by God with God and who gave birth to God.

So why don't we celebrate the first time Jesus was born? And if God had to die to save us from our sins, why didn't he do it on round one?


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