I’m not much of a miracle man. That is not to say that I believe miracles are impossible (I do not), but rather I think miracles are morally irrelevant. As evil miracles are as conceivable as good miracles, a miracle in itself proves nothing when it is separated from morality. It is morality that makes all the difference. A miracle demonstrates one thing and one thing only: power. Technology also provides power, and, to lower life forms, may appear equally miraculous as what we call miracles. Given that, it is entirely possible that “miracles” are simply phenomena of nature we simply do not yet understand. Perhaps, Christ did walk on water… and it is simply a form of psycho-kinesis. Regardless, one should evaluate Christ and his teachings in terms of the morality he espouses, not the litany of “magic tricks” that accompany him. At least, that is my opinion.
I have a Christian friend who does not believe in the virgin birth: she thinks such is impossible. I would argue that it is improbable, not impossible. Euclidean round squares are impossible, a virgin birth is not. But, of course, as I said above, since it is a miracle, it is simply irrelevant. To early Christians, of course, it, like Jesus’ many other miracles, was offered as proof of his divinity. To me, the miracles described simply provide early evidence of paranormal phenomena not necessarily related to the divine.
However, with respect to the story of the virgin birth as presented in the Gospel the main question I would ask is: are there any moral principles to be extracted from the story? I would say yes. Matthew Ch.1 (19) “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Clearly, this is a line that can offer some guidance for Christians as far as teenage pregnancy and pregnancy out of wedlock are concerned. It exhorts Christians to refrain from trying to humiliate those who make mistakes. Such is a far cry from some of the hypocrisy demonstrated by some (though not all) Christians through the ages (think “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne).
Alternatively, since Joseph does marry her, it may again offer guidance to Christians, if Joseph was the real father (that is, it’s not really a virgin birth). In that case, it’s a matter of living up to one’s responsibilities: a matter in pregnancy far more pressing at that time when women could not support themselves, than now.
Finally, despite my admonition above, one should note the “miraculous lesson.” It is the will of God that Joseph marry Mary and God let’s Joseph know that through a dream. Being a just man, it becomes Joseph’s responsibility to follow God’s commandment, marry the woman, and raise the child as his own, since “just men” are expected to follow the will of God. There are, of course, problems with this lesson if one is discussing the matter with an agnostic or atheist. How could one know the dream Joseph has really comes from God? We can know that Joseph believes the dream comes from God and acts accordingly, but proving the matter is seemingly impossible in any objective manner.
Of the lessons to be drawn from the story, although all have a place in Christianity, I believe the first is the one that should be taken most closely to heart. It demonstrates compassion for a (supposed) wrongdoer by not heaping wrong upon wrong and humiliating her. It provides a powerful description of Joseph’s moral character, which can serve as an example to young men and husbands everywhere.