Miracles Abound Here
A secular and a sacred holiday are going on concurrently. Both have miracles at their center. The secular has flying reindeer, talking snowmen, an omniscient Santa, and it has the miracle they really push: the changed heart. What about the sacred holiday? What miracles do we have? Plenty.
It's a miracle that Joseph didn't divorce Mary. Think of the story she told. Here's the facts according to Scripture. The angel Gabriel appeared to her in Nazareth saying, "The Holy Ghost shall upon you and the power of the Most Hight shall overshadow you. So, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God." To bolster her faith that she a virgin could conceive by the power of God, she was sent to her relative Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea who in her old age was also miraculously pregnant. Three months later she comes back. Either before she left or when she got back, she breaks the news to Joseph. Your fiance is pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph didn't believe her. I'm sure she told him about the angelic visit, what he said, and how Elizabeth called her the Mother of My Lord when the unborn John leaped for joy inside her. But still he didn't believe, and so decided to divorce her quietly. A New Testament scholar says, "'Jewish, Greek, and Roman law all demanded that a man divorce his wife if she were guilty of adultery. Mediterranean society viewed with contempt the weakness of a man who let his love for his wife outweigh his appropriate honor in repudiating her'" (Keener, in Gibbs, 114. Fn. 61). So, Joseph was going to do what society expected of him, but he was going to do it quietly to spare Mary "public disgrace."
Then the miracle happened. He believed her. He believed the impossible. Not that reindeer can fly, but that a virgin could conceive. And he didn't believe it because an angel said it but because God did. The way your insert has it paragraphed it makes it seem that the quote from Isaiah 7 was not spoken by the angel. But Joseph wakes up after that quote and then does as the angel had instructed once he is shown that Scripture had prophesied the Savior would come by a virgin conceiving.
Miracles abound in here, but a bigger miracle than a virgin conceiving is a woman giving birth to God. Lutherans confess with the 5th century council of Ephesus that Mary rightly has the title theotokos which is "God bearer." In one place our Confessions say, "Mary conceived and bore not only a plain, ordinary, mere man but the veritable Son of God" (FC, EP, VIII, 12). Later in this same document we say: "Therefore. she is truly the mother of God" (FC, SD, VIII, 24). It's true; Mary didn't conceive or give birth to the Father or the Spirit but only the Son. But it's also true as Colossians 2:9 says, "In Christ all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form."
If you aren't celebrating this miracle on December 24, you're missing the sacred holiday. If Mary doesn't give birth to God, then the angels blaspheme when they call Him "Christ the Lord." Then Simeon blasphemes when he calls Jesus "the Lord's Salvation." Then Anna blasphemes when she calls Him the "Redemption of Israel." And if Mary doesn't give birth to God then the Wise Men blaspheme when they worship Him.
Unless Mary gives birth to a Man who is God, the bridge between heaven and earth falls short. Romans 3 says that all men sin and fall short of the glory of God. It takes someone who reaches all the way to all men and all the way to God to bring the two together. If Jesus wasn't 100% human, He couldn't have reached us men. If Jesus wasn't 100% divine, He would have fallen short of God. And since falling short of God was our problem, He would have failed us precisely where we needed Him most.
But He didn't fail us. That's what the angel promises. "You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." That was a promise from the God who can't be wrong much less lie. In order to save us from our sins, Jesus had to take our place under the Law. God is not under the Law. God is like a king. Whatever a king does in his kingdom is right, can't be illegal. So, to take our place, Jesus had to be truly a human, but as you see in Eden even perfect man couldn't keep God's Law perfectly. So not only did Jesus have to be true Man; He had to be true God. God was born of a woman to be born under the Law to keep the Law in your place. No matter what law, what have to, ought to, or should you see over your head right now, see it stamped Done,' Completed,' Kept.'
God's Law didn't only command things that must be done before a person could go to heaven. It had penalties against anyone who sins but once. I've sinned more than that, how about you? To pay for sins, God required the blood, sweat, tears, and life of the sinner. Outside of Jesus God is Spirit: bloodless, sweatless, tearless, soulless. As true Man Jesus had all that, and paid all that. But if it wasn't the blood, sweat, tears, and life of God, it wouldn't have been enough to pay for the sins of one man let alone of all mankind. Luther said one drop of God's blood was sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God, but God shows His great love for fallen humanity in that He poured it out; He shed it; He filled a fountain, innumerable fonts, and uncountable chalices with Jesus' holy blood.
Miracles abound here. It's a miracle that Joseph didn't divorce the pregnant Mary. It's a miracle that Mary was pregnant with God. And the biggest miracle of all is that anyone believes this. Already in the 2nd century a pagan philosopher, Celsus, taught that Jesus' father was a German soldier attached to a Roman force stationed in Jerusalem (Scaer, The Virgin Birth, 1). At the beginning of the 20th century, the Virgin Birth was the first doctrine to divide American Protestants into conservative and liberal (Scaer, Christology, 32).
This divide has persisted, grown bolder and more accepted. This despite Irenaeus saying about 180 A.D. that you can't be a Christian and deny the Virgin Birth (Against Heresies, ANF, 1, 452ff.). Marcus Borg, and Episcopal priest, said, "I am one of those Christians who does not believe in the virgin birth" ("The First Christmas", Bible Review, December 1992). Another Episcopalian, Bishop Jack Spong, said Mary was not a virgin, and said that doctrine has been used as a weapon against women ("Spong says he's committed to the gospel", Charlotte Observer, November 8, 1992). Roman Catholic scholar Hans Kung also denies it saying, "Although the virgin birth cannot be understood as a historical-biological event, it can be regarded as a meaningful symbol" (On Being a Christian, 1984, 456).
These denials were made in the last two decades of the 20th century, but already in 1823 Thomas Jefferson said that the day would come when the virgin birth would be rightly classed as a fable (www.religioustolerance.org/virgin_b7.htm). There has been a relentless attack on this doctrine because if Jesus wasn't conceived in a virgin's womb, He was conceived in sin and could save no one but would Himself need a Savior. Now this unrelenting attack is powered by the internet. You don't have to wade through books or read articles to find it attacked, denied, ridiculed. It's right there in your Google search. The most damaging are from those still claiming to be Christians. But they are doing what not even Muslims do. Muslims accept the virgin birth.
Muslim or not, it's a miracle that anyone does. "Human reason left to itself always finds God's acts of grace absurd" (Scaer, 5). Isn't that the truth? Sara laughed at the possibility of her bearing a son at age 90. Abraham laughs at himself when he sees God was purposely waiting till he and Sara were physically unable to have children to give them the promised child. Zechariah is struck dumb for not believing the angel who told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child in their advanced age.
The wonder is not that so few believe in the virgin birth but than anyone at all did from Joseph on down, Belief in this miracle is more astounding then secular holiday's biggest miracle: the changed heart. From Ebenezer Scrooge, to George Baily, to the despicable Grinch the miracle of the secular holiday is that men can change. Our miracle is that God causes men to believe the unbelievable, to worship and adore it.
There has never been a science textbook published that teaches it is possible for a virgin to conceive. There is a much talked about case from the Civil War where a musket ball supposedly passed through a soldier and into a virgin's stomach and caused her to conceive. It was published in 1874 in American Medical Weekly, but it was pure hoax. A doctor wrote it not to make fun of the virgin birth of Jesus specifically but to prove how gullible people were.
Get the point? A virgin conceiving is the most ridiculous thing you can believe since it goes against all that we know about human reproduction. No, the most ridiculous thing to believe is that Almighty God could love the world which was in open rebellion against Him enough to send His only beloved Son into the world to redeem it. And He would do the redeeming not by making us better people, but by living the holy life we can't and dying the unholy death we deserve. That's ridiculous. And what's really ridiculous, no what's really miraculous, is that we believe that God became Man in Palestine and gives Himself to us still today in Bread and Wine.
I'll tell you what is miraculous. The secular holiday singing about our sacred holiday: They sing, "The virgin sings her lullaby;" "Round yon virgin mother and child;" "Offspring of a virgin's womb;" "veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity;" "To be born of a virgin He doth not despise." As much as they have, since the 19th century, tried to make our holiday about the relationship between people, the truth creeps in that it is first about the relationship between the Holy God and Sinful Man.
Listen to the radio or watch TV late Christmas Eve. The popular ditties about snowman, cold winter, warm fires, give way to our songs. And that's a miracle. It's like a KKK rally singing Civil Rights songs. Do they know what they're singing? I don't know, but as long as the miracle of the Virgin Birth is sung about the right miracle to think about is proclaimed. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20161218); Matthew 1: 18-25