s we sing songs and think about the Christmas story, we find the story of the virginal conception of Jesus woven in at the very beginning. What traditionally has been called the virgin birth of Jesus is, more precisely, a virginal conception.
My purpose is not to talk about whether this is possible. As it is not impossible for the universe to have been created by a Creator God, so it is not impossible for that same God to act purposefully to create or re-create something new in the universe. We live in a post-Einsteinian age, not a Newtonian universe, and no one can rule miracles out of court when we approach a story like that of Jesus. We simply have to look hard at the historical evidence. That is a good subject for another day.
This is not a case of the ancients being ignorant and easily accepting something we would not. The ancient Jews were as intelligent as any modern people, and they knew that it normally takes a combination of male and female to produce a child. That is why Joseph, Mary’s fianc, thought that she had cheated on him and why he purposed in his mind to end their public engagement. It took a special messenger to convince him otherwise.
With this said, it is not my purpose to prove that the event happened. Our need is to ask, "If it did happen, what does it mean?" Why is the virginal conception of Jesus important? Above all, what does it tell us about God and the way He works?
Firstly, the birth of Jesus was a supernatural event. Jesus is the product of God’s action, not the result of any human plan or action. God’s own Son entered human history and became human flesh, body and soul, and was born a tiny, squalling baby. In this action, God bound our life to His. God bound His eternity to our time-space history.
As theologian Thomas F. Torrance put it, "It was a real entry of eternity into time. Can eternity enter into time in any way except in a unique way, analogous both to eternity and to time?" Jesus’ birth is grounded in eternity, and is not conditioned by anything outside of eternity, including a human father.
Secondly, Jesus does not owe His existence to a human father, the symbol of human strength and prowess. Human autonomy and self-will is set aside. Sinful self-will is excluded.
This means Jesus owes His birth to pure grace. His life is God’s gift and God’s achievement, and not the product of any human achievement.
This is why we look to Jesus to see the full wonder of God’s grace. God is a gift-giving God. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s self-giving love.
Thirdly, this is not a new creation out of touch with the old creation. This is God reaching into our human history and human mess, working to re-create human life within the old creation. The Son of God really assumed our human flesh and made it His own, but in such a way that He re-creates our nature and redefines what it means to be human.
The virgin birth goes together with the resurrection of Jesus. I am able to believe in the virgin birth because of the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is the resurrection event that shows us Jesus is trustworthy, and shines light on his entire life. Together, these twin signs point to His reality as "God with us," God’s Son united with us in order to heal us and give us hope of resurrection life. Jesus’ birth was not the product of human power, nor was His life lived under the thumb of any man. Although He submitted to die a human death, Jesus could not be held in the grave by any power. Jesus triumphs over all that is fallen and tyrannous, including death, and ultimately offers all humans a share in His triumph, a share in His eternal kingdom.
Finally, Mary’s role in the virginal conception and birth of Jesus is a great example of faith. She is a pattern for all people to follow.
When God’s messenger told her it was God’s will for her to bear this child, she had a choice. She did not have to do this. God did not force upon her an unwanted pregnancy. She could have said "no" to God’s will. And in that event, God could have found someone else.
But Mary said "yes" to God. She said "yes" to God’s will, even though it cost her public sympathy, ruined her reputation and endangered her life. Mary chose to cooperate with God. Her act of faith is a model for all of us.
The Rev. Mark Koonz is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 628 Lincoln St., Walla Walla. He can be reached at 509-525-6872 or by email at email@example.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.