“I believe in God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.”
So begins the Apostles’ Creed, an ancient, ecumenical statement of basic Christian belief. For centuries, the truths expressed in the Creed have united Christian people. Today, however, skeptics question several doctrines found in the Creed. Two of these doubted doctrines are uniquely related to Christmas – the miraculous conception and the virgin birth.
Several objections are raised against these two doctrines. Some object on the basis of the Hebrew word “alma” in the famous prophecy of Isaiah 7. Others object because Paul never refers to these doctrines as he tells the Jesus story. Still others object on the basis of naturalism, simply insisting that miracles are not possible.
Despite these objections, Matthew and Luke are very clear about the relationship – or lack thereof – between Joseph and Mary. Furthermore, ancient people were not stupid people. First century Jews didn’t have over-the-counter pregnancy tests or state-of-the-art ultrasound machines, but they knew how babies were made. When Mary turned up pregnant, everyone knew there were two possibilities. Either Joseph and Mary jumped the gun, or Mary had been unfaithful.
Joseph knew the first possibility was not a possibility, so he concluded that his betrothed had been unfaithful. If anyone in history had the right to be skeptical about Mary’s pregnancy, it was Joseph. Instead, Joseph responded with faith. He believed the message from heaven, and he accepted the truth that the child in Mary’s womb had been miraculously conceived. Joseph believed in the virgin birth.
Why does all of this matter to you and me? For one thing, the truthfulness of the Bible is at stake. The accounts of Matthew and Luke are clear. As these men tell the Jesus story, they insist that Jesus was miraculously conceived and born of a virgin. If that did not happen, the truthfulness and the reliability of the Bible is lost.
Second, the person and the work of Christ are tied to his conception and birth. As sinful people, we desperately need a Savior. Because we are human beings, we need a human being to take our place in death. The book of Hebrews is clear, blood of bulls and goats simply won’t do. We need a human Savior.
However, because we are people who have rebelled against an infinitely holy God, we need someone who can bear the infinite punishment our sin deserves. That is, we need someone who is more than merely human. We need someone sinless. We need someone divine. We need God.
The miracle of the incarnation meets both of these needs. The Holy Spirit created life in Mary’s womb. The son of God was sent from heaven. God himself came to save us, and he did so by becoming one of us. This is the miracle of the incarnation. It’s the miracle of Christmas. Jesus was miraculously conceived and born of a virgin. Jesus is truly God and truly man, the one who came to save us from our sins.