The story of Christ’s birth exposes the impassable divide between the materialistic view of reality—the one philosophically foisted upon us by mainstream science—and the biblical view of that same reality. And though the biblical view encompasses the materialistic one, it is nowhere near (not even close) as narrow.
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth” (Luke 1:26).* This verse alone disembowels materialistic secularism.
First, an angel, an intelligent being from another part of the cosmos, coming to Nazareth, and without a rocket ship, points to a reality that we’re told does not exist. And sent by God? That’s a concept (that of God) we’ve also been told becomes more and more irrelevant with every scientific advancement.
There’s more. Estimates of the observable universe, a snippet (perhaps) of what’s beyond the filtered images that contraptions drain into our brains, range from between 26 billion to 96 billion light years wide. (A difference of 70 billion light years, but who’s counting?) These are distances that our imagination can’t clasp, and so we slap on numbers in order to give us an illusion of understanding. And two trillion galaxies, 100 billion stars each (and God alone knows how many exo-planets) . . . numbers like these partially concretize and reify concepts that our minds are not wired or chemicalized enough to grasp. And since Copernicus onward we’ve been assured that such sizes, such numbers (which get larger with each new generation), all but axiomatize our insignificance—an assurance that the angel Gabriel’s visit to Nazareth debunks in all its myopic shallowness.
Also, one of the theories of classical physics, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, caps all speed in four-dimensional spacetime at 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light. Faster than a jack rabbit running from a caffeinated hound dog, for sure. But, unfortunately for Einstein, Gabriel’s coming from heaven to Nazareth (maybe a thousand, a million, a billion light years away) means that the speed of light dawdles in contrast to the speed of angels.
“Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
A peasant woman in an impoverished backwater of the ancient Roman empire finding “favor” with the One who created and sustains the cosmos? This idea implies not just the divine, but also divine immanence, a concept that busts out of and shatters the narrow constrictors that lock materialism into such little containers.
Then after being told that she will bear a son who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (verse 33), Mary asked how this could be because “I know no man” (see verse 34). The angel responded, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (verse 35). Joseph, too, had been told by an angel in a dream about his betrothed’s supernatural pregnancy. “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matt. 1:22, 23).
Every clause of these verses mocks the poverty of ontological materialism. A young virgin, while still a virgin, will conceive a child who is, ultimately, God Himself? The Creator (John 1:1-3) of all that was created becomes incarnated into a tiny segment of that creation? And this birth would be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy written hundreds of years in advance? Chemistry, physics, biology, all the world’s accumulated wisdom at most flail about the surface of these ideas; at worst they could continue to deny not only their plausibility but possibility. To believe in the virgin birth of Jesus is to believe that materialism gives us only a black-and-white sketch of a full-color reality.
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him” (Matt. 2:13).
How exactly “an angel of the Lord” was able to appear in Joseph’s dream and warn him to flee, the text has not revealed. What the text does reveal is a level of reality beyond the natural world, beyond anything that the material or natural alone can explain. To explain this story through the lens of naturalism or materialism would be like playing a DVD on a record player and interpreting the sound as truth.
Merely to pray, and to believe that God hears your prayer, is to believe in a universe impassibly different from what test tubes, telescopes, and microscopes could ever reveal. Angels, demons, the great controversy, miracles, the resurrection of the dead, a supernatural creation, a new heaven, a new earth—the biblical worldview is chock-full of opulent realities that the natural one misses because it has put on filters that, by default, blind it to the deepest and richest dimensions of existence. What a tragedy to live in a supernatural world, which we do, but to acknowledge only the natural, when the super offers our only hope, a hope especially revealed when, contrary to what we’re assured could not happen—“the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth” (Luke 1:26)—surely did.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book is Risen: Finding Hope in the Empty Tomb.”
* Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.