Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. — Isaiah 7:14 (New International Version)
A favorite film is the classic western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” starring John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin. Its climax includes one of cinema’s most iconic lines of dialogue:
“This is the West, sir,” a newspaper editor says at the end of an interview. He rips his notes from their notebook. “When legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And he tosses the notes into a fire.
The film came to mind during a Christmas trivia game with our youth group and several adults. Games, of course, are supposed to be fun. They also are used to unveil pretense and get to the core of human behavior. Gaming experiences, it’s said, “are worth a thousand pictures,” bringing to the surface deep-seated emotions and values.
This particular game challenges a person’s knowledge of the Christmas story according to the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth. The goal of the game: “How much of the story we know is Scriptural; how much the stuff of Hallmark — its cards or movies?”
Lee Marvin, John Wayne & James Stewart, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
There was true-false, multiple choice, the occasional “none of the above,” and “we don’t know” answers. Among the latter was how many Wise Men were there, and where was Jesus born: in a cave, a tree, an inn, a stable? There were just enough “we don’t knows” that they ignited a teen rebellion. One, a group leader, flung her game sheet across the room in mock exasperation. Another teen, a newcomer and cynic about Christian faith, seized the moment to strengthen her perspective that the Bible couldn’t be trusted. In another room, adults — all of whom were long-time Christ-followers, including two pastors and two Sunday school teachers — struggled with some of the questions, too, muttering several awes and wonders.
The most earth-shattering moment, however, came not from a game question but in response to a straight-forward true-false statement: “Mary was a virgin when when she delivered Jesus.”
From the powerful lungs of a skilled nine-year-old reader, these words cut the air: “What’s a VIRGIN!?”
Eyes turned toward her mother in the next room as silence loomed in the air. The adults cleared back, mentally at least, like onlookers in the Liberty Valance showdown. Finally, the mom’s alto emerged: “Baaaahhhh-b!” she said, hailing the youth pastor who’d initiated the game.
“Well?” said the child. “What’s a vir-gin?”
Eventually, the adults collectively declared for nine-year-old comprehension: “A virgin is a woman who hasn’t had a baby yet.” This response sated the preteen, who returned to answering questions, and bought time for the mom to talk with dad about fast-tracking certain forthcoming family biology discussions.
Meanwhile, in the basement the same True-False interrogation had an equally “stop the presses” affect upon the teens who have taken biology. “Wait?” blurted a freshman girl. “Wait. What? WAIT! How…? Uh-uh! No way. Really? What?” The sequence of utterances would not have been as mind-boggling from, say, the cynical newcomer. However, this lass had recently completed confirmation classes at her Catholic church. Now, not having a Catholic background, I’m not familiar with the specifics of the class content; however, I know enough about the Catholic faith to realize that the Virgin Mary is revered — so much so, I assumed that the significance of Jesus’ mother being a virgin would not be a foreign concept. The other teens were equally surprised that a girl with her background was so thunderstruck. Perhaps we can chalk it up to a teen’s proverbial, “Uh, I missed that day.”
Or, we can chalk it up to something that happens to many people on a spiritual journey that involves Christian faith. There are moments in our lives when the words in the Bible become more than words, but begin to connect with our everyday lives. They make sense in ways we didn’t expect, didn’t want, and sometimes don’t want to acknowledge. hgjh
At the same time, there are moments when people of Christian faith who have been believers in Christ for many years, are slapped in the face with the fact that we often take for granted what we’ve been taught and, having gotten accustomed to the annual — what? play, song, traditions, rituals, teachings?– that we forget to go back to the source. Sometimes we print our own legends instead of re-reading the facts.
That was a purpose of the game which wasn’t clearly articulated in the moment because of the detours. But they were humbling lessons that came later. God has a way of doing that.
One of the offshoots of this experience was that it solidfied a structure the Lead Pastor was considering for the Christmas Eve service. “We don’t read the Christmas story much anymore,” he said. The Christmas story of Christ, in our culture, has gotten lost. So, on Christmas Eve, we read The Christmas Story at church as recorded in the two New Testament gospels, Matthew and Luke. Here is the sequence. Read it for the first time, or the umpteenth. Just remember, for the record, a virgin is a woman who has not had sexual relations. I added that in case you were absent that day.
- The announcements of Christ’s birth to Mary and then Joseph. Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25
- The trip to Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth. Luke 2:1-7
- The announcement to shepherds and their visit to Jesus. Luke 2:8-20
- The wise men. Matthew 2:1-12