There's nothing that can cause a crisis of faith like trying to explain Bible stories to your kids.
My oldest son is old enough to understand the basics of the Christmas story: baby Jesus was born in stable, wise men brought gifts, and angels appeared to shepherds. He's not quite ready for the more significant details about Mary being a virgin, Jesus being a member of the Trinity, or his death that freed us from sin – not that I haven't started introducing these to him. But considering these more miraculous and difficult to explain details has reminded me just how much I take for granted after growing up as a Christian.
For a kid who asks a thousand who, what, why, when, and where questions every day, I have a feeling that my son will give my theological education a rough go once he starts thinking about the virgin birth. Most importantly, kids think very concretely. When a picture book, The Story of King Jesus, showed an image of God living in the new Jerusalem on the last page, my son asked if we could take a long car trip to visit God in his new city. The nitty gritty details of the Christmas story will prove only more difficult to explain.
The more I reckon with the way that Christianity isn't concrete or scientifically verifiable, since you can't replicate things like the virgin birth in a lab or uncover archeological evidence that proves it, the more I'm faced with the ways my faith is a leap into the dark. What kind of assurance can I give my son about his faith, much less give myself?
Although we can only point to a few historical markers by way of grounding the Christmas story in fact, the more important question today may be this: Does the Christmas story still happen today? Does God still come down to dwell with us? Is God truly with us? Did the mission of Jesus, which began with Christmas, actually work?
It's one thing to affirm that the virgin birth happened, but it's quite another matter to pair that with actively seeking out that same God today or living in the mystery that God continues to dwell among us. If the Christmas story is true, then the things described in the Bible should continue in some way today.
Jesus promised us as much, saying that he would send his Spirit to dwell among us:
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." (John 14:16-17)
While I can't verify to a scientist's satisfaction that Jesus was born to a virgin or that angels showed up to announce his birth to shepherds, I can point to the stories of others and my own stories of God dwelling among us, being present through his Spirit. I can testify to the already-not yet of God's presence.
In low moments of suffering and uncertainty, I have found that God is with me just as the scriptures have promised. When I have prayed with those who are suffering or who have needed God the most, God has shown up, bringing peace, renewal, and hope.
I can't explain all of the ways that the Spirit works or doesn't work today. There surely are moments of silence and darkness in the spiritual life. God being with us doesn't solve all our problems. However, for those who struggle to believe that God could have possibly been miraculously born to a woman nearly 2,000 years ago – whether that someone is a parent or a child – the good news of great joy remains the same. God has come among us and remains among us. We are not abandoned. The Spirit is here, and that may be just enough to remind us why we affirm this most unlikely story in a world that desperately needs God with us.