A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

1. The Miracle of the Virgin Birth

1 The Miracle of the Virgin Birth

Luke 1:46-55:
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of his mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever."

What dumbfounding idea, that a 13-year-old girl was given this message!

We will begin this sermon with some commentary by C. S. Lewis on the subject of miracles, from his book, Miracles, and then move on to the miracle of the virgin birth:

Miracles Quotes
“Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature.”

“In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.”

“He is not the soul of Nature, nor any part of Nature. He inhabits eternity: He dwells in a high and holy place: heaven is His throne, not his vehicle, earth is his footstool, not his vesture. One day he will dismantle both and make a new heaven and earth. He is not to be identified even with the 'divine spark' in man. He is God and not man.”

“It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion. Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realize for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience. . . . Christianity does not involve the belief that all things were made for man.”

“Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.”

“No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that 'In the beginning God made Heaven and Earth'. . . . If you compare it with the creation legends of other peoples--with all these delightful absurdities in which giants to be cut up and floods to be dried up are made to exist before creation--the depth and originality of this Hebrew folk tale will soon be apparent.”

“For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.”

[Sidebar: In other words, if we are scanning for miracles, we will see them everywhere, right and left; if we are not scanning for miracles, will see nothing, old wine discovered in a back room, or a man arising from a coma. In Lewis' The Last Battle the myopic dwarves huddle together just inside the doors to Paradise and see nothing but eternal darkness because they believe in nothing but eternal darkness.]

“As long as one is a Naturalist, ‘Nature’ is the only word for ‘Everything.’ And Everything is not a subject about which anything very interesting can be said or (save by illusion) felt. One aspect of things strikes us and we talk of the ‘peace’ of Nature; another strikes us and we talk of her cruelty. And then, because we cannot quite repress our high instinct to worship the Self-existent, we are all at sea and our moods fluctuate and Nature means to us whatever we please as the moods select and slur. But everything becomes different when we recognize that Nature is a creature, a created thing, with its own particular tang or flavour. There is no need any longer to select and slur. It is not in her, but in Something far beyond her, that all lines meet and all contrasts are explained. It is no more baffling that the creature called Nature should be both fair and cruel than that the first man you meet in the train should be a dishonest grocer and a kind husband. For she is not the Absolute; she is one of the creatures, with her good points and her bad points and her own unmistakable flavour running through them all.”
― C.S. Lewis, Miracles

The introduction to a discussion of the virgin birth by referring to the general subject of miracles, implies that the virgin birth is just one of a number of events subsumed under the generic umbrella, "miracles." This may be true, but it may also be true that the virgin birth deserves a higher place in the miracle hall of fame than such trivialities as turning water into wine, or raising Lazarus from the dead, because the virgin birth is the foundation miracle, the FIRST miracle of Jesus, from which all future miracle succeed.

The Virgin birth has always been of interest to me because it's one of those miracles that can always seem to me to be a side issue. However, the question of the divinity of Jesus is most complex and is very open to various interpretations. The problem of the uniqueness of Jesus' Virgin Conception is that virgin births are reported in many religions, not least of all Buddhism; so the question of the unique Christ consciousness necessarily being delivered unto Man through a virgin is sort of a competition, because more than one great Saint can make that claim.

One of the things I found interesting, in the research for one of my previous sermons, was what Martin Luther had to say about the virgin birth: to be sure, Jesus was a Jew, of the house of David, a house of kings--but Luther asserts that a virgin birth was necessary in order for Jesus to be untainted by the original sin of Adam, which he would necessarily have inherited from the biological blood of a human father. Therefore, the virgin birth is really a prerequisite for the personality makeup of the Perfect Man. Speaking of Abraham, Luther says, in his Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent; John 8:46-59:

"Then he saw and understood that Christ, born of his seed through a pure virgin, so as not to be cursed with Adam's children but to remain blessed, should suffer for the whole world, cause this to be preached, and thus overwhelm the whole world with blessing etc. This is the day of Christ, the dispensation of the Gospel, that is the light of this day, which radiates from Christ as from the sun of righteousness, and shines and enlightens the whole world."

The first long quotation I give you is from Grace to you. This is an article written on March 7, 1999, called The Virgin Birth: a divine miracle. The piece is tainted by many of the small-minded prejudicial attitudes that mar so many fundamentalist Christian monographs, but I believe there are quite a few worthwhile statements in it; so we will cut-and-paste together little bits from it, separating the grain from the chaff:

"Luke 1:34-38:
"Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph of the descendants of David and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in he said to her, 'Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at this statement and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and he Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His Kingdom will have no end.' And Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be since I am a virgin?' And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing will be impossible with God.' And Mary said, 'Behold the bondslave of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her."

And Luke, who is careful as a historian, who is thoughtful and profound as a theologian, who is passionate as an evangelist recounts for us the story of the Savior's conception and the Savior's birth with compelling concise and rich detail. The amazing text I just read to you is a record of a virgin conceiving a child, a real incarnation where God is born through a human. This is the virgin conception that led to the virgin birth which is the foundation of the gospel. A real incarnation of God in flesh demands a virgin conception. This is foundational, this is critical to our faith. If Jesus had a human mother and a human father, then Jesus is a man and not God. And if He is a man and not God, then He is not the Savior, there is no salvation, and there is no good news.

There are some who outright deny the virgin conception and the virgin birth and try fallaciously to discredit the Scripture. There are others who counterfeit it, that is they pose other virgin conceptions and other virgin births to sort of destroy the uniqueness of this one true incarnation.

God speaks through an angel about a miracle. She wasn't used to explaining or understanding miracles in a non-miraculous world like she lived in and we live in. She believed. She's not like Zacharias who didn't believe and consequently when he was told that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child, he responded to the word from Gabriel with unbelief and he was punished and made deaf and dumb until the child was born as a public testimony to his unbelief. She wasn't like that. She believed, she just couldn't understand how.

And she also understood that the angel was not saying to her...you're going to get married to Joseph and when you come together with Joseph you're going to have a child. She knew that that would not be anything miraculous. She knew that that was not what the angel was saying because she asks the question, "How can this be since I am a virgin?" She knew the angel was saying you're going to have a Son and you're going to have that Son now. You're going to conceive now before a marriage ever takes place. And she said, "How can this happen? How is this possible to be pregnant while a virgin?" And thus the supplication is simply a question of how. She gives testimony to her virginity, she gives testimony to the understanding that this was not just a prediction, that she would get married and have a baby. The question indicates she knew she was going to be pregnant as a virgin.

In a parallel statement to enrich our understanding, the angel then says, this is another way to say it, "The power of the Most High will overshadow you." The Holy Spirit is the same as the Most High. The Holy Spirit is the Most High. Most High, by the way, is in the Hebrew el elyon, God Most High. It's used at least three dozen times in the Old Testament to describe God. It is a title for God. It means sovereign lordship, sovereign ruler, almighty, all powerful...very common Old Testament name for God. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, or saying the same thing another way, the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Genesis 14:19:
"The Lord God Most High, the possessor of heaven and earth."
That's what it means to be Most High, it means to be the sovereign over everything that exists in heaven and in earth, sovereign over it all...the sovereign almighty creator God who made and upholds the universe will create life out of nothing.

He uses the verb here "He will overshadow you...He will overshadow you," episkiazo. It means, it's translated "overshadow," there are three times in the New Testament where the transfiguration is described. It's described in Matthew, it's described in Mark and it's described in Luke. And at the time of the transfiguration there was an appearance of the Shekinah glory and it overshadowed them. It uses the same verb and translates it "overshadowing." It means to surround. It means to encompass, or it means in the metaphoric sense to influence.

God Himself, the sovereign creator of the universe, will come and surround and overshadow and influence with creative power the womb of Mary. That's what the angel said. That's the divine strategy to produce in her womb this child. It will not happen through the normal...the normal human process, it will be divine and supernatural and apart from any human sexual activity whatsoever. A creating influence of God moves in to Mary's body.

And for that reason, back to verse 35, for that reason, because of this divine creative miracle, 
"The holy offspring shall be called the Son of God."
Yes, He is the Son of Mary, born from here. Yes He's a Son of David because Mary was from David's line. He is the Son of David also legally because His father, though not His father by natural birth was His father by human family identity, he too was a son of David, so He inherited David's royal line from His father, David's royal blood from His mother. He was Son of Mary, Son of Joseph in the legal sense, but He was Son of God in the sense of His nature, in the sense of His essence. He was Son of God in human form.
Nothing says it better than Hebrews 1 where it says,

Hebrews 1:3:
"He is the exact representation of God's nature."
[Sidebar: A representation is not the thing itself, but, rather, a symbol for the thing itself. The author goes on to say:]

Jesus Christ was the exact duplication of the nature of God.
[Sidebar: I don't like the word "duplication" in this context; the word "representation" is much better. To "duplicate" implies the ability to make an exact copy of a thing--and how could the Infinite, constantly-moving-but-ever- fixed personality of God ever be DUPLICATED?]

That's why God could say of Him, in
2 Samuel 7:14:
"Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee. I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me."
This is God's Son. This is essential to the whole of our Christian faith. You have here a child created in a human womb, created by God sinless, holy, and bearing the nature of God, the divine child. That's why in
Hebrews 1:8:
"To the Son the Father can say, 'Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever."
This is God's Son, this is God Himself in human form.
John 1:14 says:
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

This is God's Son. Jesus said it again and again...I and the Father are one. It was for this that the Jews executed Him. It was for this which they perceived as blasphemy, claiming to be the offspring of God, claiming to be the exact representation of God, claiming to bear the divine nature was in their view blasphemous. But this is true. Jesus was the Son of God by conception and by birth miraculously."

There are many positive things about this little article; it makes many salient points, and mentions many of the features surrounding the virgin birth which are significant. (For instance, I especially like the point about Jesus being the legal son of Joseph, and heir to his worldly goods, but not his son in Spirit.) But the piece is also guilty of the flaw of which I accuse so many articles by fundamentalist Christians: underlying all the statements of faith is the implication that it is the miracle that justifies Jesus' claim to divinity.

I know that this may sound blasphemous to some, but I must confess that I am completely open to the idea that, in the long history of mankind, there have been more than one virgin birth; just as I am absolutely sure that there have been more than one person who was able to perform miracles. Miracles come from God not from any single person or entity. The fact that Jesus is the focus of the divine personality, the divine consciousness, is very, very important; but it is not singular, and it is not absolutely unique.

The Messiah, the Anointed One, is a focus, in mundane reality, of the infinite Personality of God; but so, to certain lesser extents, are we all. That which stands out, in the case of Jesus, is that He chose to make a sacrifice so hugely magnificent, that it empowered Him to take a place for Himself midway between Man and God. The scope of His purpose defined the scope of His all-encompassing consciousness. He could not have performed His Humanitarian purpose without donning the Mantle of God's Only Begotten Son. This is the BIG MIRACLE.

The significance of the Virgin birth is not so much that it was miraculous, but that it is one of number of signs which are associated with the coming of the Messiah. We need these signs to bolster our faith, they are part of the ceremony of the miraculous--but the signs are not the source of our faith, nor are they the objects of our faith: they are merely a window dressing, which makes the whole thing prettier; in music we say, "To glorify God". The glorification of God, the tiny little miracles that reveal hints and angles of the divine consciousness to the mundane consciousness, are lovely parts of the package; but they do not change the essential fact that Jesus was chosen to perform a certain act: to perform the sacrifices and ceremonies necessary for Him to become the mediator between God and Man; a mediator which did not exist before His coming.

When we consider how ancient is this planet, and how many souls have passed through the worldly initiation, it is dumbfounding to consider that God, through Jesus,  for the first time, incarnated into Human form so that all succeeding generations might have direct access to the Divine in the world, in Jesus, and in themselves. Isn't it WONDERFUL! It may be that in the dark recesses of the past, other saviors brought the good news to the inhabitants of other times unremembered, but this does not diminish the significance of Jesus' coming and His magnificent sacrifice, His great TAKING OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR ORIGINAL SIN. Regardless of any scientific theories, or New Age mumbo-jumbo, the centrality of Jesus, in the evolution of Mankind toward a higher spiritual identity, is absolute! In fact, this is just about the only thing I believe in ABSOLUTELY.

The second article I want to read from is Dionysus: Born of a Virgin on December 25th, Killed and Resurrected after Three Days by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S. This article is an account of another virgin birth, and draws a parallel between Jesus and certain other mythological saviors.

"December 25th/Winter Solstice
As with Jesus, December 25th and January 6th are both traditional birth dates in the Dionysian myth and simply represent the period of the winter solstice. Indeed, the winter-solstice date of the Greek sun and wine god Dionysus was originally recognized in early January but was eventually placed on December 25th, as related by ancient Latin writer Macrobius (c. 400 AD/CE). Regardless, the effect is the same: The winter sun god is born around this time, when the shortest day of the year begins to become longer.

[Sidebar: Isn't it interesting that the first public miracle Jesus performed was turning water into wine?!]
"Macrobius transfers this feast to the day of the winter solstice, December 25."
The ancient Church father Epiphanius (4th cent.) discussed the birth of the god Aion, son of the Greek goddess Persephone or Kore ("Maiden"), at the time of the winter solstice. In this regard, Christian theologian Rev. Dr. Hugh Rahner (139-140) remarks:
"We know that Aion was at this time beginning to be regarded as identical with Helios and Helios with Dionysus...because [according to Macrobius] Dionysus was the symbol of the sun... He is made to appear small at the time of the winter solstice, when upon a certain day the Egyptians take him out of the crypt, because on this the shortest day of the year it is as though he were a little child.... Macrobius transfers [this feast] to the day of the winter solstice, December 25."
Dionysus is thus equivalent to Aion and was also said to have been born of Persephone, the virgin maiden. Esteemed mythologist Joseph Campbell (MI, 34) confirms this "celebration of the birth of the year-god Aion to the virgin Goddess Kore," the latter of whom he calls "a Hellenized transformation of Isis," the Egyptian mother goddess who was likewise called the "Great Virgin" in inscriptions predating the Christian era by centuries.

Virgin Birth
According to the most common tradition, Dionysus was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman Semele. In the Cretan version of the same story, which the pre-Christian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus follows, Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the daughter of Demeter also called Kore, who is styled a "virgin goddess."
In the common myth about the birth of Dionysus/Bacchus, Semele is mysteriously impregnated by one of Zeus's bolts of lightning--an obvi­ous miraculous/virgin conception.

Concerning Dionysus's epithet "twice begotten," in the third century Church father Minucius Felix (Commodius, XII) remarked to his Pagan audience:
"Ye yourselves say that Father Liber was assuredly twice begotten. First of all he was born in India of Proserphine [Persephone] and Jupiter [Zeus]... Again, restored from his death, in another womb Semele conceived him again of Jupiter…" (Roberts, IV, 205)
"The virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus."
In another account, Jupiter/Zeus gives Dionysus's torn-up heart in a drink to Semele, who becomes pregnant with the "twice born" god this way, again a miraculous or "virgin" birth. Indeed, Joseph Campbell explicitly calls Semele a "virgin":
"While the maiden goddess sat there, peacefully weaving a mantle on which there was to be a representation of the universe, her mother contrived that Zeus should learn of her presence; he approached her in the form of an immense snake. And the virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus, who was born and nurtured in that cave, torn to death as a babe and resurrected... " (Campbell, MG, 4.27)
This same direct appellation is used by Cambridge professor and anthropologist Sir Dr. Edmund Ronald Leach:
"Dionysus, son of Zeus, is born of a mortal virgin, Semele, who later became immortalized through the inter­vention of her divine son; Jesus, son of God, is born of a mortal virgin, Mary… such stories can be dupli­cated over and over again." (Hugh-Jones, 108)
Using the scholarly Greek term parthenos, meaning "virgin," in The Cult of the Divine Birth in Ancient Greece (95) Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso concludes: 
"Semele was also likely a holy parthenos by virtue of the fact that she gave birth to Dionysus via her union with Zeus (Hesiod, Theogony 940)."
These learned individuals had reason to consider Dionysus's mother a virgin, as, again, he was also said to have been born of Persephone/Kore, whom, once more from Epiphanius, was herself deemed a "virgin," or parthenos. In this regard, professor emeritus of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania Dr. Donald White (183) says, 
"As a title 'Parthenos' was appropriate to both Demeter and Persephone..."

The fact that Persephone is associated with parthenogenesis, the scholarly term for "virgin birth," lends credence to the notion that Dionysus was virgin-born. As related further by Rigoglioso in Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (111):
"Persephone's connection with the parthenogenetic pomegranate is attested in text and iconography. In speaking directly about the Eleusinian Mysteries, Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation to the Greeks 2:16) informs us that the pomegranate tree was believed to have sprung from the drops of the blood of Dionysus…"
Although Dionysus is depicted as being the product of a "rape" by Zeus, the story is little different from the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by Yahweh without her consent, especially in consideration of the identification of Dionysus's very blood with parthenogenesis. In this regard, Rigoglioso also states,

"I contend that Persephone's eating of the pomegranate was the magical action that instigated her ability to conceive parthenogenetically."

"Dionysus is 'first-born,' 'Savior' and 'Father.'"
The title "King of Kings" and other epithets may reflect Dionysus's kinship with Osiris: During the late 18th to early 19th dynasties (c. 1300 BCE), Osiris's epithets included, 
"the king of eternity, the lord of everlastingness, who traverseth millions of years in the duration of his life, the firstborn son of the womb of Nut, begotten of Seb, the prince of gods and men, the god of gods, the king of kings, the lord of lords, the prince of princes, the governor of the world whose existence is for everlasting." (Budge, liii) 
Dionysus's death and resurrection were famous in ancient times, so much so that Christian father Origen (c. 184-c. 254) felt the need to address them in his Contra Celsus (IV, XVI-XVII), comparing them unfavorably, of course, to those of Christ. By Origen's time, these Dionysian mysteries had already been celebrated for centuries. Dionysus/Bacchus's resurrection or revival after having been torn to pieces or otherwise killed earned him the epithet of "twice born."

Moreover, it was said that Dionysus/Bacchus "slept three nights with Proserpine [Persephone],"  evidently referring to the god's journey into the underworld to visit his mother. Like Jesus, the god is claimed also to have "ascended to heaven," such as by Church father Justin Martyr (First Apology, 21; Roberts I, 170). Note that Dionysus is depicted here as an adult, rising out of the underworld after death, with a horse-driven chariot so typical of a sun god. One major astrotheological meaning of this motif is the sun's entrance into and exit from the cave (womb) of the world at the winter solstice.
Hence, in Dionysus we have yet another solar hero, born of a virgin on "December 25th" or the winter solstice, performing miracles and receiving divine epithets, being killed, giving his blood as a sacrifice, resurrecting from the dead after three days in Hades/Hell, and ascending into heaven. These motifs have all been claimed of the gospel figure of Jesus Christ since antiquity and have to do not with the adventures of a "historical" Jewish savior but with the ubiquitous solar mythos and ritual."

Now WHY have I just spent ten minutes reading about Dionysus? The preceding piece refers to a plethora of myths about virgin births, raisings from the dead, etc., etc. Do I mean to propose, as many New Age philosophers do, that Jesus is just one more in a long line of Messianic manifestations? I admit, to my broad-minded attitude, this is tempting; but the fact is that these myths are just myths, stories, symbols for what is true, but not the Truth Itself. It must be admitted that myths are paradigms of spiritual realities that are present in the collective consciousness, and are therefore spiritually true; but the miracle of Jesus is that it is most likely the only one of these myths based on HISTORICAL FACT. The Dionysus, the Krishna, even the Buddhistic myths are symbolic precursors of the one glorious historical fact: that in some elected moment of time, chosen by God out of an ocean of infinity, Jesus brought God to Earth! The Greeks knew, the Wise Mane knew, the Essenes knew that something was coming, but they could not have known the essence of this arrival until it chose to incarnate in the Flesh. How WONDERFUL!

Remember the section of an earlier sermon (Grace and Truth) when I quoted this passage concerning Tolkien and C. S. Lewis:

Myth and Truth
J.R.R.Tolkien--a devout Catholic--understood the power of myth as well. In his biography of Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter relates Tolkien's conversation with C.S.Lewis which led to the great man's conversion.

Lewis had come to believe in God, but could not relate to Jesus' 2,000 year-old death. Lewis shared Tolkien's excitement with myth, and understood how myth interests and involves the audience in a vicarious way. Tolkien asked Lewis why he couldn't transfer his appreciation of sacrifice from the myth to the true story.

"But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through with silver."

"No." said Tolkien "They are not. You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word, but it was not a tree until you gave it a name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about Truth."
Tolkien went on to explain that although the myths were woven through with error, they also reflected a fragment of the true light as well. The light began to dawn for Lewis: "Then the story of Christ," he said,"is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened."

Now the preceding piece on Dionusus, represented as yet another in a line of "solar heroes". This is not the first time we have heard about the solar mythos, and the Sun-God. Last Advent we read the following from Steiner's Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival, I, The Birth of the Light, Berlin, December 19, 1904:
"Christianity stands as the external mystical fact for the birth of the light. Christ brought to the earth what had existed from the beginning, although it was hidden from mankind throughout the ages we have been speaking of. Now, however, a new climax was reached. Even as the light is born anew at the winter solstice, so . . . the Savior of Mankind, the Christ, was born. He is the new Sun Hero who was not only initiated in the depths of the Mystery temples, but who also appeared before all the world so that it could be said, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). When it was recognized that the Divine could descend into a personality, the festival celebrating the birth of the Sun Hero, the Christ, came to replace the festival celebrating the birth of the light."

To recapitulate: the myths surrounding all the ancient Sun-Gods, may only be thought of wishful thinking, an image seem through a glass darkly, compared to the blinding light of Jesus' glorious incarnation on Earth. These myths attest to the POSSIBILITY of a Messiah, the HOPE for a Messiah, but their impact pales next to the ACTUAL COMING of the Messiah.

From the web article Legacy of the Gods we read:

"In Steiner's Tenth Lecture on the Gospel of St. Luke, he reflects that just as a plant cannot unfold its blossom immediately after the seed has been sown, so has humankind had to progress from stage to stage until the right knowledge could be brought to maturity at the right time.

To Steiner, the Christ energy is the catalyst that germinates the seed that great Spirit Beings implanted within their human offspring. There were, of course, the physical seeds of male and female, which intermingled to produce the whole human being. But there was also something in each human that did not arise from the blending of the two physical seeds. There was, so to speak, a "virgin birth," a something ineffable, Steiner says, which somehow flowed. into the process of germination from quite a different source: "

The following is a book review--a review that neatly summarizes the main points of the book, MYTH OF THE NATIVITY - The Virgin Birth Re-examined - By Andrew Welburn [ Floris Books ]
Review Author: Pearl Goodwin [Originally appeared in 'Perspectives' Vol 77 No1]
"The theme of the virgin birth has long fascinated not only theologians and scholars, but also everyone who has an open mind for the Gospel stories of Matthew and Luke. It is a fascination that arises largely out of a fundamental difficulty, particularly in our time, of imagining that Jesus of Nazareth was born outside of the basic biological principles governing conception and birth, without the participation of Joseph. So great is this problem that for many people it stands in the way of their accepting Christianity. And so steeped are we in what seem to be the unshakeable laws of nature, that it is almost impossible to imagine that a human being could be born in any way other than through the laws of nature. Only those people who can live with strong and unquestioning faith accept the possibility of the virgin birth just as it stands in the Gospel, understanding it as a miracle, beyond the laws of nature which have been in existence since God's promise to Noah after the flood.
Putting aside for a moment this whole aspect of natural law, it is clear that the virgin birth has many other layers of meaning, and it is these that Andrew Welburn addresses in his latest book. He approaches the subject with what we have come to expect from him, a wide scholarship infused with spiritual imagination. For him, what makes the birth "virgin" has got less to do with the biological side than with a stream of thought that comes out of the far past. Much of the book is taken up with showing that the Gospel stories are by no means the only such events in history. In his own words "the concept of the virgin birth was associated with a new age, the new revelation, the reappearing prophet, the world's saviour, a mystical, divine child." Virgin here means that something new has come to the earth. There is a great richness of material describing instances of this, much of it taken from more hidden, "occult" literature. To mention but one, the birth of Melchisedek, who appears only very briefly in the book of Genesis, bearing bread and wine to Abraham. He brought a glimpse of heavenly heights before the necessary but more earthly religious forms of Judaism took shape. The Melchisedek of Genesis is but one of a long line bearing that name, beginning with the son of the brother of Noah, Nir, and his wife Sopanim. The story has echoes of the birth of John the Baptist to parents that are old, and also of the Matthew story, the shock of Niv when Sopanin is found to be with child. Sopanin died out of the pain of rejection - but the child is born out of the dead body and immediately can sit up and speak. There are many such stories, taken from Egyptian, Judaic and also Gnostic sources, to mention but a few. 
It is clear that this book has been written for a wider readership than those familiar with the work of Rudolf Steiner. Hopefully it will reach many people, for it takes the realm of spirit as serious and real within a scholarly context. So the work of Rudolf Steiner on this theme is mentioned only briefly and in an understated way. Steiner spoke about the fact that in the past, and sometimes even now, conception could take place in sleep, that is unconsciously and therefore purely, or virginally. In that state the heavenly star of the individual can unite with the biological counterpart.

[Sidebar: I did not become fully conscious, until this moment, that I have always imagined the Divine impregnation as occurring during sleep. The Zeffirelli movie, Jesus of Nazareth, depicts the angel in the Anunciation as a beam of light shining through a high window. Mary listens raptly to the angel's message, and then sleeps. Kind of like the tooth fairy.]
Natural law and spiritual law can be brought together and it is important that this should be understood. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth was not a virgin birth in the sense of there being no biological father. Jesus of Nazareth had to be a full human being, a special one certainty, but a truly human being, in order to fulfill Christ's deed of redemption. Perhaps this side needs slightly more emphasis in the book, even though Andrew Welburn comes to the same conclusion from other directions. He shows us that the Gospel story is the culmination of a great tradition stretching far back into prehistory, and that what comes as new spiritual impulse out of the heavens must always have the character of "virgin".

This last paragraph, with its implication that Jesus' incarnation may not have been a purely spiritual virgin birth, but, rather, had a very natural biological component, fits in with what I have said many times: that I don't need a miracle to demonstrate the miraculous. Whether you clothe the miraculous in the jargon of the New Science, or in the backward Baptist Creationist attitude doesn't matter. The miraculous is in how, through Jesus, the spirit of God seeps into every fiber of Man's essential being; just as, in the proposition that the creation of the world took place in six days, or in the case of Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead, I do not need these miracles to be literally true for them to be spiritually true. There is no distinction in my mind between that which is physically true and that which is spiritually true; that spiritual truths lean over into the physical is part and parcel of the whole multi-dimensionality of existence. As to the the question of the literal truth of the virgin birth, I have to say, once again, I don't really care.

What I do care about is this: the coming of Jesus into the world was prepared by so many natural signs and events, that three wise men, from way out of town, were able to read the stars and find the baby in a manger, delivered to Man in what can only be described as a miraculous way. Next week we will talk about  the Three Wise Men.

Let us pray: Jesus, Your ways and means are so beyond our powers of comprehension, that our boggled minds shiver to pieces before their immensity. Deliver the flavor of your miraculous birth through the signs of the season, and give us a taste of that understanding which we know will be ours, after a time, in higher places. Amen.

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