Advent with Barth: The Gracious Judgment of the Nativity

Monday, December 17, 2018

But how far is it the ex virgine (of the virgin) that points to this penetration and new beginning?

Virgin birth means birth without previous sexual union between man and woman. Speaking generally, it is what it lacks that distinguishes the birth of Christ, that marks it as the mystery of God, the penetration and new beginning within humanity.

But what is it in this lack that acts as a sign?

Here we cannot consider the quite un-biblical view that sexual life as such is to be regarded as an evil to be removed, so that the active sign is to be sought in the fact that this removal is here presumed to have taken place.

But if, to be precise, we add that it is not the natural but the sinful element in sexual life which caused it to be excluded here as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ, we still do not give a valid account of the ex virgine.

It is not because of the sin actually involved in all sexual life that man is altogether a sinner who continually lives in disobedience by living it out.

He is altogether a sinner from birth, who all through his life lives out the disobedience in which his life is already involved.

And so all sexual life is involved in sin as well, and is itself sin.

Thus the exclusion of this sinful sexual life does not mean the exclusion of sin in the sense of peccatum originale (original sin),and so this exclusion is still as unsuitable as ever to be the sign of the penetration and new beginning in the existence of Jesus Christ, to be the sign of His sinlessness.

In the form of the natus ex virgine (born of the virgin) sinful sexual life is excluded as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ.

But this is understandable and significant only if we keep in mind the fact that the limitation of man achieved in the ex virgine, the meaning of the judgment on man therein expressed, cannot be discerned at all from the side of that which is limited or judged, that is, of the sin of man, but only from that of Him who limits or judges, that is, of what God is, wills and does here in excluding the sinful life of sex.

The mystery of revelation and reconciliation consists in the fact that in His freedom, mercy and omnipotence, God became man, and as such acts upon man.

By this action of God sin is excluded and nullified.

And to this particular action of God the natus ex virgine (born of a virgin) points.

It is the sign that the sinful life of sex is excluded as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ.

In that God in His revelation and reconciliation is the Lord and makes room for Himself among us, man and his sin are limited and judged.

God is also Lord over His sinful creature.

God is also free over its original sin, the sin that is altogether bound up with its existence and antecedent to every evil thought, word, and deed.

And God–but God only–is free to restore this freedom to His creature.

This freedom will always be the freedom of His own action upon His creature, and so the negation of a freedom of this creature’s own.

Since it lives by His grace, it is judged in its own will and accomplishment.

If the natus ex virgine with its exclusion of the sinful life of sex points to this gracious judgment of God, it really signifies the exclusion of sin in the sense of peccatum originale.

That it does actually point to this gracious judgment of God, we realize when we consider that in the birth without previous sexual union of man and woman (of which Scripture speaks), man is involved in the form of Mary, but involved only in the form of the virgo Maria (Virgin Mary), i.e., only in the form of non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign man, only in the form of man who can merely receive, merely to be ready, merely to let something be done to and with himself.

This human being, the virgo, becomes the possibility, becomes the mother of God’s Son in the flesh.

It is not, of course, that she is this; but she becomes it.

And she does not become it of her own capacity; she acquires capacity by the act of the Son of God assuming flesh.

It is not as though this non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign, merely ready, merely receptive, virgin human being as such can have brought anything to the active God as her own, in which her adaptability for God consists.

It is not as if virginity as a human possibility constitutes the point of connection for divine grace.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, pages 189-191.

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