A good read by the Rt Revd Dr Prof NT Wright with which to start the day off:
Jesus’ birth usually gets far more attention than its role in the New Testament warrants. Christmas looms large in our culture, outshining even Easter in the popular mind.
Yet without Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 we would know nothing about it. Paul’s gospel includes Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom. 1:3), but apart from that could exist without mention of his birth. One can be justified by faith with no knowledge of it. Likewise, John’s wonderful theological edifice has no need of it: God’s glory is revealed not in the manger; but on the cross.
If you try to express any New Testament theology without Jesus’ death and resurrection, you will find it cannot be done. “Man shall live for evermore,” says the song, “because of Christmas Day.” No, replies the New Testament; because of Calvary, Easter and Pentecost.
Nevertheless, the birth stories have become a test case in various controversies. If you believe in miracles, you believe in Jesus’ miraculous birth; if you don’t, you don’t. Both sides turn the question into a shibboleth, not for its own sake but to find out who’s in and who’s out.
The problem is that “miracle,” as used in these controversies, is not a biblical category. The God of the Bible is not a normally absent God who sometimes “intervenes.” This God is always present and active, often surprisingly so.
Likewise, if you believe the Bible is “true,” you will believe the birth stories; if you don’t, you won’t. Again, the birth stories are insignificant in themselves; they function as a test for beliefs about the Bible.
The birth stories have also functioned as a test case for views of sexuality. Some believers in the virginal conception align this with a low view of sexuality and a high view of perpetual virginity. They believe the story not because of what it says about Jesus, but because of what it says about sex-namely, that it’s something God wouldn’t want to get mixed up in. This, too, has its mirror image: those who cannot imagine anything good about abstinence insist that Mary must have been sexually active.
More significantly, the birth stories have played a role within different views of the incarnation. Those who have emphasized Jesus’ divinity have sometimes made the virginal conception central. Those who have emphasized Jesus’ humanity have often felt that the virginal conception would mark him off from the rest of us.
None of these arguments bears much relation to what either Matthew or Luke actually says. But before we turn to them, two more preliminary remarks…
Read on here.
And from the conclusion:
If the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two of Luke had never existed, I do not suppose that my own Christian faith, or that of the church to which I belong, would have been very different.
But since they do, and since for quite other reasons I have come to believe that the God of Israel, the world’s creator, was personally and fully revealed in and as Jesus of Nazareth, I hold open my historical judgment and say: If that’s what God deemed appropriate, who am I to object?