I know this stuff about umbilical cords because, during the birth of our last child, I was present in the delivery room giving essential aid to the doctor and the mother in their labors. Also attending were some student nurses who had never seen the father in the delivery room. I had an important responsibility for them, too. The physician made this clear in his dramatic instructions to me: “Don’t you dare faint!”
When our son was born his first action was to urinate on the doctor. Since I knew what the hospital bill was going to be, I was mightily tempted to do the same. At that moment the doctor was distracted by the new mother’s gracious invitation to bite the umbilical cord as she had seen done so many times in Africa where she grew up. However, apparently American obstetricians have bad teeth and he declined.
Since neither Adam nor Eve were born the way we are, the first navel battle occurred “east of Eden” (Genesis 3:24). This event is not described in any military history that I could find. More surprising, theological textbooks generally ignore the meaning of this mark we all carry around all our lives. Perhaps Buddhists have given navel-gazing a bad name, but mainline Christians ought to find midline reflection quite helpful in their Lenten devotions. I expect a number of eye-catching sermons will be breached using the title, “Belly Button Lent.’ Reflection might, for example, focus on this natural sign of our connection to preceding generations on the Earth. “No man is an island, entire of itself . . . I am involved in mankind” (Devotions XVII). That’s the way it is when all is said and Donne.
In Scripture a tacit contrast is very likely suggested between the skeptical and disobedient Eve and the faithful and obedient Mary. In any case, the contrast between the first and second Adam is most explicit in 1 Corinthians 15. According to this biblical typology, the first Adam leads us to sin and the second Adam leads us to salvation. Also included are the great themes of creation and redemption, the new being in Christ and the virgin birth.
The relation between Adam and Eve is husband and wife; Mary and Jesus are mother and child. For centuries Christians believed this child was the son of Mary and the only begotten Son of God. The paternity of Jesus of Nazareth is found in God the Father Almighty and in Mary was his maternity clothed. Not long ago a theological liberal could be identified by disbelief in the virgin birth. Today, of course, theological liberals are much bolder and deny the entire incarnation in all except a mythical, metaphorical sense.
The virgin birth is a complex doctrine well beyond the scope of these brief remarks. However, this one small point can be indicated. That Jesus was born without a human father does not teach us how different he is from us. Rather, in having a human mother, we learn how closely Jesus identifies with us. The birth of Emmanuel means that God is with us (Matthew 1:23). We are one with him and he is one with us. And, although some Presbyterians seem to have forgotten, he is one with the Father (John 10:30). John Calvin never doubted that Jesus Christ was full deity and full humanity in one person. However, Calvin also thought Christ’s humanity was double in nature. In himself our Lord was sinless; for us he became sin (2 Corinthians 5:12).
The first Adam, born without a navel, was sinless until he chose otherwise. The second Adam, conceived by the Holy Ghost, was born of the Virgin Mary attached to an umbilical cord just as you were. It’s a mark that he belongs to us and we belong to him.