December 17, 2013
Imagine the headlines today:
“Teenage girl gets pregnant, but claims she’s still a virgin.”
“Girl’s fiancé claims it is not his, but marries her anyway.”
The nature of the birth of Jesus is arguably one of the most scandalous and certainly the most unusual occurrence most of us have ever heard of. A baby, born of a virgin!
We belt out this truth every year in our favourite carols, but have we ever stopped to consider what these words actually mean?
The Bible’s account of the first Christmas claims that both Mary and Joseph were separately visited by an angel, explaining that the boy to be born would be conceived of the Holy Spirit. He would be called Jesus (The Lord saves), because he would save his people from their sin. “He will be great, will reign forever, and his kingdom will never end,” the angel told his mother.
There are only two alternatives. Either Mary is simply an adulteress trying (and failing), to cover her tracks. Or else she really has conceived entirely by a miracle of God, and received a supernatural visitation and message to reassure her to carry out the birth, and live with the consequences.
It’s hard for us to comprehend today how serious an affair this would be in a strictly Jewish society. At best, Mary could expect to be severely persecuted for having a baby outside of wedlock. At worst, she could be stoned to death.
So which one was it? Lying adulteress or miracle of God? Here are 3 factors that can help us decide:
1. What about Joseph? When Joseph first found out he determined to ‘divorce’ Mary quietly. But after his meeting with an angel from God Joseph changed his mind. By proceeding to take Mary as his wife, he willingly took upon himself the shame of the act. From that moment on Joseph would either be treated as guilty himself, or as the husband of an adulteress. In fact, some 30 years later we find Jesus referred to as the ‘Son of Mary’, a hugely insulting term in a patriarchal society.
What could have persuaded Joseph to take all of this on himself, but the truth?
2. The Written Accounts: The events of the first Christmas are recorded in two accounts, in the gospels. The first is by a guy called Matthew, (one of Jesus’ disciples). After a lengthy and accurate genealogy of the child King Matthew launches into the story of his miraculous birth.
The second is written by the early doctor Luke who similarly went to great pains to investigate these claims rigorously. Even today Luke’s details are prove genuine again and again.
3. An Historical Promise: The Jewish nation was waiting expectantly for a coming Saviour, the Messiah, for centuries. They just didn’t know when he would come. Some 730 years before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah declared “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, ‘God with us.’
There are countless similar predictions about Jesus recorded throughout the Bible. Could Mary’s miraculous conception (the only one in history), be anything other than the fulfillment of this promise?
So what will you make of the birth of Jesus this Christmas?
Will you side-line it as a medical impossibility, and disregard it completely? Or, like the Bible writers living at the time, are you willing to investigate its claims and authenticity further?
These claims demand that Jesus be regarded not merely as a moral teacher, or even a prophet, but as the very person of God, in human form. He will be called ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. ‘Jesus’ is the promised One who would save his people from their sins. He’s the One to be worshipped, as foreign magi (wise men), and neighbouring shepherds did at the time. His kingdom will be one that will never end.
At Christmas, we remember the birth of Jesus, our Immanuel, coming to earth to save us. The God of the Universe went to every length imaginable to rescue us from sin and its punishment: He shrunk Himself down to a tiny baby! And we can find true joy in the knowledge that even though we were far from God, His love for us compelled Him to enter broken humanity, to endure death on a Cross, in order to save us. Even at Jesus’ birth we are reminded that the reason He came was to lay down his life for us. Jesus was born to die.
By the Cornerstone Team