The same old thing


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By Bobby Neal Winters

It’s the same thing every year at church. You would think that they believe that we are stupid or something. They always decorate with the same colors. They always read the same scripture, year after year, Christmas after Christmas. Is there something that we are not getting? Is there something they are repeating until it gets through?

It seems like that we always read Isaiah, Chapter 7, verse 14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” There is some controversy among scholars about whether the word that is translated “virgin” should be translated “young woman” instead. Most conservative Christian scholars go with the word “virgin,” which fits in very nicely with the Christmas story since Christians interpret the “virgin/young woman” to be the Virgin Mary. The question of translation hinges upon translations of Hebrew words in to Greek and technical things like that.

While I am not a good Okie to admit it, my Greek and Hebrew are not up the arguing the question one way or the other, and I am not sure that my writing skills are up to keeping the reader awake during the process in any case. However, the thought occurs to me that while the Virgin Birth of our Lord was a miraculous and singular event, even a normal birth is miraculous, and every great life that has ever been lived has begun when a young woman has conceived and bore a child.

As a man, this is something that I cannot do. I am pretty good at opening pickle jars, and I can reach those high shelves, but in spite of the appearance of my abdomen, I am never going to have a baby. That’s just the way it is. I don’t want to leave the wrong impression though, because I am not sorry about this. Having seen all three of my children born, I have seen the pain involved, and the birth itself is only the beginning.

Regardless of how much the father helps, at every stage from conception, to birth, to sending off to college, it is the mother who bears the overwhelming bulk of the burden. There is nothing in the world that is fair about this, but it is the way that it is and the way that it has been as far back as human memory goes, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

To make it worse, human females have a harder time giving birth than those of any other species, and human children are helpless far longer and require more care than the offspring of any other animal. (Some are helpless well into their forties.)

Yet in spite of the sheer injustice of it all, the human race continues generation after generation, because there is a price to be paid for our existence, and women are the only ones who can pay it.

We think of ourselves as people of the modern age and that we are better than those who have gone before us. The truth is, the little things change, but the big things remain the same. As Sonny and Cher said, “Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce / Boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss . . . and the beat goes on.” So every Christmas, people of faith and tradition come together at church and listen to the same prophecy, the same story, and the same hymns. We hear the same bells and smell the same smells, and we do it voluntarily. The sameness of it all is part of it. Indeed we protest if anything is changed; it is our connection to eternity. We need it all repeated the same way every year because we are looking for something, for a Savior, because our Savior gives us hope.

Our Savior came to us packaged as a baby like any girl might have. It was such a burden, so terrifying, and yet within the burden and pain of childbirth was the hope of the world. As it is written in chapter 9 of the prophet Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

It is the same old thing every year, and it will continue to be forever and ever because that is who we are. Maybe one day we will understand it.