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In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of His ancestor David. And He will reign over Israel forever; His Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.Luke 1:26-38
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.Matthew 1:18-25
A Mary Christmas
You may be pleasantly surprised to know that according to a recent poll the majority of Americans, 53% to be exact, prefer Merry Christmas over Happy Holidays, which came in at 21% and/or Season’s Greetings at 12%. 1
However, my greeting to you a moment ago was not, ‘M.e.r.r.y’ Christmas, but rather, ‘M.a.r.y’ Christmas as I would enjoy the privilege of speaking to you about some of Mary’s perspective on that first Christmas.
A pastor had the kids up front on Christmas Eve and asked them, “What were the names of Jesus dad and mom?”
And one little boy answered, “Virgil and Mary.”
The pastor said, “You are right that Mary was the name of his mother, but where did you get Virgil?”
And the little boy quoted a pretty good source, “The Bible says, ‘Jesus was born of Virg and Mary.’”
Technically, there’s not a verse that directly links the words ‘virgin Mary;’ however, I invite you to consider the truth that a virgin named Mary delivered a baby boy, who according to the same angel who also spoke with Joseph, was to be named ‘Jesus,’ “for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
When the angel suddenly appears to give her a message from God, Luke tells us she was “confused and disturbed” (Luke 1:29).
The NASB which has always been recognized as the most accurate translation
says she was, “perplexed and kept pondering” which I like better, for the Greek word for pondering means ‘to make an audit.’ It is an accounting word, and it means to be adding things up, weighing and pondering” 2 in order to reach a conclusion.
I would like to suggest that we join Mary in weighing and pondering the events of that first Christmas; especially the virgin birth. And hopefully, we will reach a conclusion as did Mary.
We are already familiar with the who, when, and where of that first Christmas; so, what can we say about the virgin birth?
We can ponder, first of all, that the virgin birth is a miracle. It is fair to say that Christianity begins with the basic notion that miracles; supernatural events where God intervenes in human history are a reality.
The Bible speaks of three major miracles which are the foundation of the Christian faith. There is the miracle of CREATION. Then, closely related to but separate from the virgin birth, is the miracle of the INCARNATION; that God was in Christ, deity in humanity. The miracle of the RESURRECTION underpins the whole of Christianity, for as Paul writes “if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless” (I Co. 15:14).
The virgin birth; therefore, needs to be seen and thought about alongside these other what we would call miraculous interventions of God.
Secondly, we should weigh the idea that the virgin birth was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (which is a miracle in itself). Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son” (Isaiah 7:14).
This is just one of about 300 prophecies in the OT that predict various aspects of the life of Christ; not only the virgin birth, but also that He would be born in Bethlehem, His death by crucifixion, His resurrection, etc.
Peter Stoner, Chair of Departments of Math and Astronomy at Pasadena City College and Dr. Robert Newman, Head of Astrophysics at Cornell in their book Science Speaks calculate the odds of just 8 of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person as 1 in one quintillion, that is, a one with 17 zeros. To give it context, they asked their readers to imagine Texas covered with silver dollars two feet thick. And then mark one of those with a checkmark and then bury it in a random place and then blindfold someone and ask them to meander around in all those dollars and when they felt like it, reach down and pick one up. The odds of that person choosing the check marked silver dollar would be the same odds as one person fulfilling just 8 of the prophecies that came true in Jesus. 3
So, the virgin birth was a direct intervention of God into human affairs, in other words, a miracle, and it was a fulfillment of what God said He was going to do all along. Which should indicate to us that the person of Jesus is unlike any other person who ever lived.
Beyond what the Bible says about it, does the Bible provide some insight into the ‘why’ of the virgin birth?
If Jesus was going to live up to His namesake; that is, saving His people from their sins, He had to be not only human but also divine.
He had to be human; not only to live among us, to identify with us but also, and most importantly, to die for us … to pay the penalty for our sinfulness. In His pre-existent state, where He was co-equal with God, He was eternal, omnipotent, invincible, not capable of dying.
So the Bible tells us: “Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
At the same time, He had to also be divine so that He would be a sinless sacrifice. A sinner could not die for the sins of others. One cannot remove a grape juice stain from a pure white sheet if the cleansing agent is tainted with grape juice. Jesus would not have been able to remove the stain of sin from us if his blood would have been tainted with sin. But the Bible says He was the perfect sinless sacrifice: “For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14).
This is why when Jesus’ first cousin, John the Baptist, saw Jesus, he declared,
“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Theologian R. C. Sproul explains in his book, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith:
The sin-less-ness of Christ is fundamental and necessary for our salvation. Had Christ not been the “lamb without blemish,” He not only could not have secured anyone’s salvation, but would have needed a savior Himself.” 4
In His Study Bible, Chuck Swindoll writes:
We can imagine several ways God might have gone about His plan other than sending His Son to be born a virgin. He could have sent a mighty angel in the form of a man, but that individual would not have been a human. Alternatively, He could have chosen a remarkably gifted and Godly individual. Who exemplified everything God wanted human beings to be, but that person would not have been divine. The only thing that would work was the virgin birth. Because Jesus was born of a woman, He was fully human; because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He was, at the same time, fully God. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the virgin birth isn’t important.” 5
Who, what, when, where, why and finally how?
How in the world did God pull that off?
Indeed, after the angel assures her that indeed God is working in her life and she will bear the Son of the most high God, she asks, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
In other words, she is expressing doubts about what she is being told, As some of us are right now.
In his fine book, Hidden Christmas, Tim Keller writes,
There is the kind of doubt that is the sign of a closed mind, and there is the kind of doubt that is a sign of an open mind. Some doubt seeks answers and some doubt is a defense against the possibility of answers. There are people like Mary who are open to the truth and are willing to relinquish sovereignty over their lives if they can be shown that the truth is other than what they thought. And there are those who use doubt to stay in control of their lives and keeping their minds closed. Which kind of doubt do you have?” 6
The kind of doubt that Mary had gives up on trying to provide a scientific answer in order to explain what God is up to. Would to God that we would all be released from the bondage that drives us to rationally explain that which is often unexplainable because it has to do with the enigmatic mystery of God.
Mary knew that God had said, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Mary thinks, this is beyond my ability to comprehend. She was right; every miracle of God is beyond our petty attempts to explain them. It is never the ultimate wisdom to insist that 2 and 2 = 4; sometimes those integers make 22.
I am not asking you to commit intellectual suicide in order to accept the miracle of Christmas. I am asking you to join Mary in weighing and pondering the evidence and then take a reasonable leap of faith.
As did Mary who in the end responded, “I am the Lord’s servant; may everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38). In other words, even though she didn’t have it all figured out, she was willing to move forward on her spiritual journey by simply trusting that even though she didn’t know for sure what lie ahead, God did.
There was once a man who didn’t believe in the Biblical view of Christmas. One very snowy Christmas Eve, his wife, who did believe, took their children to a Christmas Eve Service in the farm community in which they lived. She asked him to come, but he refused. “That story is nonsense!” he said. “Why would God come to Earth as a man in such an impossible way?” So she and the children left . . . while he remained at home.
As the evening wore on, the wind grew stronger and the snowfall became a blizzard. The man was sitting before a fire when he heard something thump into a window. He looked out but couldn’t see more than a few feet. So he ventured outside to see and in the field near his house a flock of wild geese. Apparently, they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn’t go on. They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or more importantly, shelter.
The man felt sorry for the geese and wanted to help them. He thought his barn would be a great place for them to stay . . . warm and safe. So he walked over to the barn and opened the doors wide, then watched and waited, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside. But the geese just fluttered around and didn’t seem to notice. The man tried to get their attention, but that just seemed to scare them away. He went into the house and came with some bread, broke it up, and made a breadcrumb trail leading to the barn . . . they still didn’t catch on. He got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, to no avail. Nothing he did could get them to head into the warmth and safety of the barn.
Then he had an idea. He went into the barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it . . . and guess where it flew? Sure enough . . . one by one the other geese followed it to safety.
Suddenly he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier. “Why would God want to come as a man? That’s ridiculous!” But as he thought about it, it all started to make sense. We are like the geese: blind, lost, perishing, unable to find our way home. God had His Son become like us . . . so He could lead us to safety. Suddenly it all seemed to click. He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer: “Thank You, God, for being born in human form to rescue me from the storm!”
My friends, on Christmas Eve 2022, God has once again opened the door that leads to safety.
I want to say to you that if you will give yourself to God, God will give Himself to you.
I want to say to you that God has a plan for your life and in His plan are all sorts of little pieces; situations, experiences, challenges, and lessons that somehow fit together to make one beautiful picture called . . . your life.
I want to say to you that tonight if you haven’t already received it, God wants to put the most important piece of the puzzle of your life in place. Once this piece is in place everything else takes on a wonderful, new perspective.
For on the very night in which this miracle occurred, the angels said, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:10-11).
And so I highly encourage you to say with Mary, “May it be done unto me according to Your Will” (Luke 1:38).
1 Most People Prefer ‘Merry Christmas’ https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2022/december/most-people-prefer-merry-christmas.html
2 Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas, [New York, New York: Viking Press, © 2016], Page 81.
3 Peter Stoner and Biblical Prophecy, The Daily Hatch
http//the daily hatch.org/2013/08/26peter-stoner-and-biblical prophecy
4 R. C Sproul, The R.C. Sproul Collection Volume 2: Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, [Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, © 2017]
5 Chuck Swindoll, The Swindoll Study Bible, [Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, © 2017] Page 1227.
6 Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas, [New York, New York: Viking Press, © 2016], Page 83.