My choir is practicing Christmas carols, which brings to mind how literally our carol writers have taken the gospel stories of the nativity.
Star in the East? Check.
Birth in Bethlehem because of a Roman census? Check.
Angels in the heavens? Check.
Fulfillment of messianic promise? Check.
Some scholars tell us that Luke (angels, census) and Matthew (Magi, star) were probably not telling history in the nativity narratives. Instead, they may have been using fanciful language to express the birth is divinely ordained, intended for the entire world, and thus significant.
In one sense, it doesn't mater whether the birth of Jesus occurred in Bethlehem or Nazareth or somewhere else. His birth's significance was that it came to unnotable people who lived in poverty in a politically and economically oppressed corner of the globe. Jesus was a nobody, something that the gospel writers might not have been able to wrap their heads around. And maybe they were right; selling the idea of a Messiah who had no claims to his title --neither through nobility of birth, lineage, place of birth or signs at his coming -- might have been a hard sell through the ages.
But I continue to be struck with the ordinariness of Jesus. He was born to unremarkable parents. His hometown was so small it did not even show up on maps. His schooling might have been rudimentary. His worldview would have be constrained by the ignorance of humanity in the period. He believed the religious slant that was common in his day -- that a messiah was coming and the Son on Man was about to arrive on the clouds of heaven.
Given all the commotion purported to have happened at his birth, it is remarkable that Jesus lived the next thirty years in obscurity. But did his life make any less difference because the herald angels might not have sung at his birth? Would his views on true worship of a loving God be any less meaningful if no one brought him gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh? Would God's plan be nullified were his mother not a virgin?
I am largely indifferent to Mary's virginity, and to all of the rest of the ornamentation that has been draped over the Nativity stories. If they happened as recorded by the evangelists, then wonderful. But if Jesus's birth took place in a dirty hovel in Nazareth on a cold and unlit dirt floor, his life and teaching would have no less value to me.