Summary: The Virgin Birth of the Master was fulfilment of a promise forgotten in time.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel’
(which means, God with us).”
I confess that I am of two minds concerning the Advent Season. Certainly, this is a joyous time of the year—filled with parties and good cheer as people seem to be on their best behaviour. However, it is also a time of intense pressures. Unrealistic expectations drive many people to excess. The incident of suicides is increased during this season, the incident of drunkenness with all its attendant problems increases throughout the Christmas season and marital strife resulting from excessive debt incurred during the season is exaggerated.
Nevertheless, Christmas presents a great opportunity to provide teaching about the doctrine of Christ the Saviour—teaching that is woefully neglected by far too many pulpits. The doctrines that are essential, though essentially ignored, are doctrines that address such necessary truths as prophetic fulfilment, the virginal conception, the humanity of the Master, the deity of the Saviour, and God’s salvation and the faithfulness of God. To be certain, addressing these doctrines from the pulpit provides opportunity to teach God’s people in great and wonderful truths. Considered in this light, I welcome the Advent Season.
On the other hand, because these wonderful doctrines are interwoven with the cultural phenomenon of Christmas, many people attend church out of duty during this season, failing to hear what is said. Others dismiss what is said, refusing to connect the dots, as it were. Worse yet are the vast numbers of professed Christians who imagine that they know all about the story of Christ’s advent, and tune out what is being taught.
We are not really so very different from the people who were living in Judea during the days when the Master was born. Many fell into one of those same categories: knowing all about God’s promise, but consumed with their own interests so that they ignored what they knew; dutifully listening to what was said during the days of worship required in the Temple, though tuning out the message that was delivered; or, deliberately dismissing what God had said. God had promised from the fall of our first parents that He would send a Deliverer. All peoples familiar with the promise of God should have been living in anticipation. That they were not eagerly waiting indicates that the promise of His Advent was a promise forgotten in time.
*The Virgin Birth in Context* — Perhaps it is more accurate for us to speak of the virginal conception than it is to speak of the virgin birth. My reason for making such a statement is that the Bible tells us little about the actual birth of the Messiah; but the account of the Saviour’s conception receives significant attention. Nevertheless, most people understand that whenever we speak of “The Virgin Birth,” we are speaking of the fact that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is important to point out that Matthew takes care to stress that Mary and Joseph did not enjoy marital relationship until after the birth of the Master. Having been informed by the angel that Mary was not promiscuous, Joseph did assume responsibility as her husband, and, as the text states, he “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” [*verse 25*]. Before continuing our consideration of prophesies pointing to the virgin birth of the Messiah, there are several issues surrounding the account of Joseph’s character that I want to address.
Joseph is the focus of Matthew’s account of the conception of the Master. Whereas Luke’s account focuses on Mary and her reaction to the divine announcement and activity, Matthew focuses on Joseph. To be certain, Mary’s pregnancy underlies the discussion, but the issue central to Matthew’s presentation is Joseph’s dilemma presented by Mary’s pregnancy.
In Jewish culture, betrothal was somewhat like engagement in our culture, but it imposed a more rigorous set of requirements on those who were betrothed. If an engagement is broken in our culture, there is no lasting shame attached to either party. However, betrothal in the Jewish system was tantamount to marriage. It conferred a legal status on the two individuals such that they were actually considered to be husband and wife. This is evident from the text when we note that Joseph is identified as Mary’s husband [*verse 19*]. This is not the first time he is identified as the husband of Mary before the marriage ceremony proper [see *Matthew 1:16*].