Principles of science such as cause and effect may war against the private spiritualities of orthodox secularlists and greedy politicians (who pretend to create money out of nothing), but they are right at home in the reality-oriented information given in the events of Christmas No. 1.
That is to say:
Cause and effect has little to do with modern-day religion, private spiritualities, personal ethics, Eric Hoffer’s “true believer,” varieties of religious experience, or with assorted “people of faith.”
Let us also not discriminate against orthodox secularists and naturalistic scientists who create their own private truths and valued feelings in an effort to cope as humans with an otherwise unbearable life.
The standard line these days is that questions directed to these private realms are considered impolite, out of bounds, and over the line.
Presidential candidates get to pass “Go” and collect votes if they promise their faith really is just theirs -- that is, something merely private and inward, not public and not applicable to policy.
The Creator, and the information he communicates about life in the world, is permitted to inspire during devotions inside closets or during limited times of public tragedy, but he shall have no substantive impact on public life, foreign policy, and so on.
In contrast to a retreat into subjectivity, the Biblical mentality, including the world-altering events that launched Christmas in the first place, has much to do with the natural order.
The Bible knows that messages and songs and other intellectual and aesthetic content come not out of nothing.
Roman edicts are the creations of Roman Caesars, inns too full are the effects of a finite number of rooms plus many travelers hitting the road at the same time.
First-century people did not have electricity, but they knew night skies are not illuminated to reveal familiar daytime geography without a cause of light.
What is given in the Bible is a framework for distinguishing between campfires and angels, both of which are natural phenomena in a cosmos that is the product of a living Creator.
But both of which are also supernatural in a cosmos that is reduced, as some theorize, to particles cold and unaccounted for, arranged without reason in greater or lesser degrees of complexity.
Joseph and Mary knew where baby humans come from, how they are conceived, and how they arrive.
“There is one thing often said about our ancestors which we must not say,” C.S. Lewis writes in his essay “Miracles,” in God in the Dock.
“We must not say ‘They believed in miracles because they did not know the Laws of Nature.’ This is nonsense.”
Why? Because “when St. Joseph discovered that his bride was pregnant, he was ‘minded to put her away’. He knew enough biology for that. Otherwise, of course, he would not have regarded pregnancy as a proof of infidelity.”
Mary and Joseph had questions that speak to this issue of cause and effect.
How could she be pregnant without physical relations with a man? Should Joseph reconsider marriage since knowledge of the natural order indicates Mary is not the virgin she claims to be?
They received answers that are reasonable in light of information from a Creator who has within himself the power of being and is free to act into history, just as human beings are empowered to act as well.
In effect, the God of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and David says he will again act into human history, into what after all is his cosmos, to bring about a physical change in the living, physical environment he created in the first place.
Though she is not married, and although people will talk, Mary is asked by God whether she would like to be the virgin mother of the Messiah (see Luke 1:26ff).
For his part Joseph is asked, in effect: “Do you take this virgin with child as your lawfully wedded wife, seeing as I have used my power to create to conceive a baby in her womb?”
Joseph also knew eyebrows would be raised, but he agreed to move forward (see Matt. 1:18ff). Mary showed herself to be a woman of strength who by her choices maintained her dignity.
The above is excerpted from my "Christmas Spirit in Space and Time." Additional excerpts are forthcoming during this Christmas season. If you'd like to read ahead, go here.