The virgin birth is not a part of the Christmas story that gets much attention in Christmas sermons. Frankly, a lot of Christians don’t see how the virgin birth is relevant to the Christian faith. While Catholics are criticized for making too much of Mary, Protestants often make too little of Mary. The virgin birth is a miraculous event, but not because Mary was sinless. The Bible does not teach Immaculate Conception. Mary was pure, but she was not perfect.
Unwrapping the miracle of the virgin birth must begin with acknowledging that Mary conceived without any form of physical relationship, and only through the agency of the Holy Spirit. There is no other story like this in all of human history.
While it may be possible to be saved without believing in it, to reject the virgin birth is to reject God’s Word. God keeps His Word. You can trust Him. He said He would come through a virgin the first time, and He did. He said He will come in victory the second time, and He will!
Larry King was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all history. He said, “Jesus Christ.” The questioner said, “And what would you like to ask Him?” Larry King replied, “I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”
But clearly, God chose her; she was ready to obey; she became the greatest mother that ever lived in history. From the womb to the tomb, she never forsook her Son.
The birth of Christ through a virgin gives us a glimpse of the nature of grace. The birth of Christ, in which the initiative and power are all of God, is an apt picture of God’s saving grace in general, of which it is a part. It teaches us that salvation is by God’s act, not our human effort. The birth of Jesus is like our new birth, which is also by the Holy Spirit; it is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
Don’t underestimate the weight of the news Mary received. Thus far she had absolutely no physical evidence to bring faith to sight. Twenty years ago, while on a mission trip in Europe, I had the privilege of stopping in Florence, Italy. I am usually not a big fan of museums but one particular fresco intrigued me called Annunciation, which was completed over five centuries ago, but is still dynamic and intriguing. The artist, Fra Angelico, has placed on the left side of the painting the figure of an angel, elaborate in dress with a resplendent, colorful wingspan. On the right side is a simple, slender young girl seated on a wood stool, staring incredulously as the angel addresses her with the word Ave, which means “greeting” or (as we would say) “hello.”
Obviously, this painting captures that pivotal moment in time when the angel of the Lord announced to Mary that she was to become the one who would bring the Messiah into the world in human form…a moment that changed the course of history.
There’s more to the painting, however. Within the split second of receiving this angelic news, the girl’s face shows that delicate moment of searching for clarity so she can obey God’s command even in its incredulity. I think Fra Angelico is saying to the viewer, “Obedience is not easy…it takes trusting in the fact that God knows what He is doing even though I don’t.” Understandably, Mary was concerned how such a birth could happen since it was humanly impossible. She had questions, but as we know from Luke 1:38, she obeyed the voice of God, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left.
Well, what does all this have to do with you and me? In a strange sort of way, every person in the world can identify with Mary. Deep within us there is a teeter-tottering between needing to know more and simply taking God at His Word.
- How can we reconcile that which we don’t understand?
- We often wonder why we have been chosen to do something we feel utterly incapable of.
- We have fragile moments where we feel no support, and can only stare into space, trying to discern the scope of the news that has just been given to us.
As we study Mary, we learn more about ourselves! But most importantly, we learn more about God’s personal, sovereign plans for each of us. Believing in the virgin birth is as critical to my faith development as believing that God is equally involved in the intricate details of my life. What remains to be seen is my willingness to humbly and promptly obey.
Thankful for His birth!