Culture At Large

The Immaculate Reception and other Christmas miracles

Kyle Brooks

“You talk about Christmas miracles. Here’s the miracle of all miracles,” shouted commentator Curt Gowdy. It was 1972, and Franco Harris had just caught the unlikely, game-winning touchdown pass that would be irreverently dubbed "the Immaculate Reception," propelling the perpetually underachieving Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories and the NFL history books.

However, Dr. Ali Binazir might disagree with Gowdy. He says that the miracle of all miracles is: your birth.

That’s right. According to Binazir’s calculations, the probability of your existence is approximately 102,685,000. If that’s too large a number to wrap your brain around, consider that the number of atoms in the known universe is about 1080. Put another way by Binazir, it’s as if 2 million people played a game with trillion-sided dice, rolled once and each got the same number. That is how unlikely (some might even say impossible) you are!

Robert Krulwich, a blogger for NPR, recently asked this question, “Were we meant to be, each and every one of us? Or are we glorious accidents, each and every one? Or are we some mysterious combination of impossible and inevitable?”

Like Krulwich, I am less interested in Binazir’s remarkable statistics than how my friends will interpret the data. “Accident” is a long way away from “miracle.” I suspect that many of my contemporaries might take the former interpretation.

I think a lot of us feel like a cosmic accident at times. We sometimes feel as if we have been splatted onto the earth without any rhyme or reason. The chances of our existence are slim to none and the chances of our existence being meaningful sometimes feel even slimmer. If we interpret Binazir’s stats as saying we are cosmic accidents, we are following the anxiety-ridden storyline of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Sartre claimed that your existence comes before your essence. In other words, you are a cosmic accident. Nobody authored you. You are utterly alone in creating the meaning of your life and of the world. According to Sartre, since nobody has written your story you have the painful and ultimately pointless task of writing it yourself. And if that’s true of you, then it’s also true of the rest of the world. There is no true story of the whole world. It’s one big cosmic accident.

But I have to wonder, “Why am I here if the chances of my being born are so ridiculously low?” In fact, there is an even sharper point to the question now that researchers have estimated the global population has reached 7 billion. How is it possible that 7 billion of these practically impossible people exist? Is it even reasonable to believe that something so unlikely happened completely by accident?

It seems to me that it’s far more reasonable to believe there is actually an author of this human story. In fact, the Christian faith has always held that - unlikely though you may be statistically - you’re no accident. As David wrote in Psalm 139: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” God, the Author of the story of the world, chose to write you in. This is not replacing a cosmic accident with cosmic fate, but with the loving choice of the Divine Author.

However, I might not go so far as to call your birth the miracle of all miracles. I’m going to reserve that category for someone else’s birth. Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this time of year, was not just another unlikely human. He is the climax of God’s story. He is the Author breaking into His own story, changing it forever. Talk about Christmas miracles.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Science, Theology & The Church, Faith, Christmas & Easter