Consequences of the Virgin Birth
From "the virgin sings her lullaby", to "a virgin meek and pure", to "the virgin bears the infant", to offspring of a virgin's womb" to "round yon virgin mother and child", and "to be born of virgin He doth not despise", you can't miss the central point that a woman never having known a man becomes pregnant and gives birth. And yet what doctrines do people commonly stumble over in Christianity? A 6-day creation, an eternal hell, the earth's age. Really? These are mole hills compared to the Virgin Birth. I mean creation, damnation, and aging the earth are in some sense beyond my experience. Human reproduction is not. But if you deny the Virgin Birth, it doesn't matter what you think of the other 3 miracles. The Virgin Birth is that consequential.
The first consequence of this article of faith is ridicule. First of Joseph. You see this in the text. Pregnant out of wedlock meant one thing to Joseph who followed the Bible. She couldn't be his wife. The angel appears. The bulletin cover is good; this is more than a vision or dream. The angels ephaine. This is an epiphany. The mighty angel says, "Don't be afraid to take Mary home as your wife." Mary knows the truth; Joseph knows the truth. This Child is from the Holy Spirit. Everyone else thought Joseph a wittol, "a man who is aware of his wife's infidelity and acquiesces to it" (Merriam-Webster). The society around Joseph "'viewed with contempt the weakness of a man who let his love for his wife outweigh his appropriate honor in repudiating her'" (Gibbs, 114). Last week I referenced how Jesus was ridiculed as "Mary's son" or "the carpenters' son." How about this exchange in John 6? "They said, Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, "I came down from heaven"'" (42)? And what else do you think Jesus' hometown is taunting Him about by saying "physician heal yourself"?
A consequence of the Virgin Birth was ridicule of Joseph, Jesus, and Mary too, and ever since then it has been a ridicule of the faith, the doctrine that God the Son by power of the Holy Spirit took on flesh and blood in the womb of a virgin. Early on it was said that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. Go on the internet; you'll find thousands of sites stating all the reasons it is ridiculous to believe that a virgin conceived at all, let alone conceived God. So not only is this article of the Christian faith ridiculous so is a faith that believes it. Believing this is put on par with believing in Big Foot, the Easter Bunny, and flying reindeer. It was attacks on this doctrine in the late 1800s that led to the rise of Fundamentalism. This led to the divide between Fundamentalists and liberals that has swept through virtually every denomination with Fundamentalist' being used as an insult by the liberals and society in general. So badly did Fundamentalists want to show a virgin birth was scientifically possible they had a Civil War story to prove it. Google "Bullet Pregnancy."
That's the problem with apologetics in my mind. The really crucial articles of faith Absolution, Real Presence, Baptismal regeneration, the Virgin Birth, resurrection, and even angels, hell, and the soul are beyond the realm of scientific study let alone verification. There is no escaping the ridicule of believing that your God and Savior was born of a virgin. No more than you will escape the shame of your God dying on a cross and giving you the forgiveness He won there in Water, Words, Bread and Wine. But ridiculing isn't the only consequence of the Virgin Birth, so is rejoining. Have you noticed this Christmas how the "Wizard of Oz" has become linked to it? I don't know why they're doing it, but for years I've seen a connection. Both tell the tale of bridging the gap between God and Man, one successful one not. That there is a gap even those who don't believe "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) sense. The breach happened in Paradise when Adam believed the Devil rather than God and he came under God's judgment of death and was banished from life with Him.
All people sense this separation and try to bridge the gap. The Scarecrow thinks if he only has brain he can span the gap. The Tin Man thinks he make it across if he only had the heart, and the Cowardly Lion thinks being courageous can do it. Do you think you can think your way to rejoining God in peace? Do you believe you can love your way back to feeling at peace with God? How about work your way? Whether by mind, heart, or hands everyone tries to bridge the gap between God and man but that gap is one of judgement, wrath, and sin, and how do you cross these? You don't, can't, won't and God's law written in everyone's heart assures you of this.
It's a truism to say that to span a gap a bridge must reach both sides. The gap is between God and Man, so the bridge must be all God and all Man. A half-man and half-god wouldn't fully reach both sides. The only way to span the gap is Gott mit uns, is God with us. This was the slogan the Germans had on their uniforms in WW I. And they seem to have taken it from this prophesy of Isaiah that Matthew cites as being fulfilled in Mary's conception: that one born of a virgin would be Immanuel, God with us. The Person of Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man. Wherever the Man Jesus stands there God stands, and wherever you say God to be - on heaven's throne, ruling over all things, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient - there the Man Jesus is. So, as many of you who have been baptized, you have put on Jesus, and therefore God. As many of you I have absolved in Jesus' name, God Himself sent away your sins. As many of you who eat the Body and drink the Blood of the Man Jesus, you eat and drink God.
This is better than the mother and child reunion that Paul Simon sings of. A consequence of the Virgin Birth is reunion of God with Man, but there's another even more comforting consequence: that's redemption, that's being bought back for a price from sin, death, and the power of the devil. First, to whom does this redemption apply? The Virgin Birth tells us it applies to everyone in the womb on up. Any flesh that God didn't take on would not be redeemed. That means if He had come into our flesh as a 3, 13, or 30-year-old whatever age was below that would be left unredeemable and irredeemable. There would be no hope of salvation for them. But God didn't do that. No, in the Virgin Birth, God descended down to our very roots. This is how confessional Lutherans have described it since the 16th century: The Son of God in assuming His own flesh "endured those things which commonly befall man in conception, pregnancy, and birthsothat we might know that Christ's salvation applies even to man's fetus in conception, gestation, and birth" (Chemnitz, Two Natures, 102).
Note well, I haven't said anything about anyone believing this. The truth about God in the Person of Christ redeeming fallen flesh and blood from womb to tomb is a consequence of the Virgin Birth. Jesus was holy in the womb and lived a holy life under the Law that constantly accuses and condemns you and you can never satisfy try as you may. Though He only and always pleased God, Jesus was sent to the cross bearing the sins of all flesh He assumed. He came into the womb for all; He took on the flesh of all, and so He took on the debts of all and paid for them all on the cross. God showed the world that He accepted the suffering and death of Jesus for all by raising Him on the 3rd day proclaiming forgiveness to all the world.
In Jesus, Psalm 85 is fulfilled. "Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed." God's mercy for fallen man and the truth that sinners must die and be damned are met in the God-Man Jesus. His mercy endures forever in Him and in Him was the death and damnation of all sinners. God's righteousness which must judge sinners and God's peace to sinners kiss in Jesus. In Jesus, God judged sinners and so showed Himself righteous, and in Jesus, God declared peace to sinners.
God with us in our flesh and blood, under the law, keeping the law, suffering the law's punishment in place of all is a consequence of the Virgin Birth. And this consequence gets the emphasis in our text. Matthew tells us the Virgin Birth took place fulfilling the prophesy that the Christ would be Immanuel, God with us. But what receives the emphasis? Not that He is called Immanuel, but Jesus and that He will be called this "because He will save His people from their sins." Not only does God intend to forgive sins, send them away in Jesus' name, wash them away in Jesus' blood, remove the guilt of the sin and sinfulness of sinners. No, in Jesus God will save people from their sins. A person who can't keep from eating more potato chips or is tempted by a third helping of a favorite food may say, "Save me." A person fallen into the water unable to swim will call, "Save me." Someone sliding toward a cliff will reach out his hand and cry, "Save me."
I don't wish to draw attention to whether or not you are crying "save me" but to the fact that's what the angels says Jesus will do. He is named Jesus, which means "Yahweh saves" because He will save people from their sins. Biblical imagery is of a brand snatched out of a fire, a dimly burning wick not snuffed out, a lost sheep being found; Peter being saved from a lifetime of guilt, and Paul being saved from dying in unbelief by Jesus doing the impossible: God rescuing the ungodly, forgiving the unforgiveable, saving the unsaveable. All this starts in motion when God the Son willingly takes on flesh and blood in the virgin's womb.
Larry King was right. In 1998 he was asked if he could interview anyone in history who would he most want to? He replied, "Jesus Christ." What did he wish to ask Jesus? "'I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me'" (www.religoustolerance.org/virgin_b7.htm). If the Virgin Birth is that consequential for an avowed atheist, it's more so us. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20191222); Matthew 1: 18-25