In the Atheist Age -- the age of Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman and others whose verbal assaults on God bedeck the best-seller lists -- it might seem barren to celebrate a stable, a star and a baby, these being the central figures of Christmas.
Virgin birth? Angels? Bah, humbug -- by the reasoning of our the rejectionists and their cheering section.
The communal pieties of the 1950s have loosened their hold on the culture, which explains the set-tos over "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays." The Dallas Morning News, just before Christmas, helpfully explained the emergence of the Winter Solstice festival -- a manifestation of group spirit for those otherwise lacking the Spirit. Which proves perhaps that it's hard to get Christmas out of your system, even when you disdain its central tenet -- that of the entry of God into human life and affairs through the birth of His only begotten Son.
The claim that He did so is certainly a large one, encroaching deliberately, you might think, on claims concerning the superiority of the scientific method and of the methods of men in general.
The Christmas claim, to be sure, is not only ancient but also pervasive. The whole of what we once were pleased to call Christian civilization rests upon it, as on an immense platform. The improbability of that claim is the point that atheists such as Professor Dawkins push under our noses. What do you mean, "virgin birth?" Who ever heard of such a thing?
It's a point not without interest. Nobody ever heard of such a thing --- this one instance aside. The rule can't prove the exception; but the exception, and its centrality in the belief system of Christian civilization, give us a way of thinking about the objections of the rejectionists. That is, wouldn't you think Christians, if they were trying to dupe the world, would traffic in the world's categories and terms? They'd say -- wouldn't they? -- "Let's leave off this 'Carpenter of Nazareth' business, and all that about virgin births and resurrections, and make Jesus a scientist."
That's it -- a scientist. Not some baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. No, a scientist -- a Manger of Affairs. A big shot. Maybe that kind of presentation would get to the atheists: Jesus as a kind of super Nobel laureate in physics and peace. That would sell, wouldn't it?