Summary: To really understand Christmas you have to look closely at the Virgin birth.
Year A – 4th Sunday of Advent
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I heard a reference to our gospel text during my first trip to Wal-Mart last Tuesday.
It was in that aisle where they have wrapping paper and bows hopelessly strewn in piles, along with ribbons, and gift bags.
I had just managed to squeeze around two women and their overloaded shopping carts. They were babbling in Portugese and I was trying to figure out what they were saying. And that’s when I heard it.
Right there in Wal-Mart broadcast over the Wal-Mart Radio Network for the entire world to hear – a commentary on our gospel text. “Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright ‘Round yon virgin mother and child...”
I wonder how many other people heard the reference to the Virgin with a child as they were filling their carts. More than that, I wonder if it really matters.
I bet 99% of the shoppers in Wal-Mart or Target can sing the first verse of Silent Night.
And I would be further willing to wager on the fact that in spite of the gross biblical illiteracy in our society that at least 85% of all American adults can tell you that Jesus’ mother was a Virgin named Mary.
“Everybody knows that!” But so what? Does it really make a difference to the average person that Jesus was born of a virgin?
Would YOUR Christmas celebration be any different if the whole virgin thing were not a part of the story?
Matthew apparently thought it to be a key component in the episode. And Luke–he made a big deal about it in his telling of the Christmas story. Although, for the sake of time we’re really going to focus on Matthew’s perspective today.
The point being, though, that the “round yon virgin” bit seems to be pretty important to our understand of what Christmas is really all about.
I would be so bold as to suggest that if you miss the Virgin Mary component that you can’t really understand or enter into the true meaning of Christmas.
And this morning I would like to make three observations about the Virgin birth that should help put your Christmas celebration in perspective – three things you really must start to digest if you’re going to do Christmas right.
First of all, I’d like you to note that THE VIRGIN BIRTH DRAWS US INTO GOD’S MYSTERIOUS METHOD OF OPERATION.
God is a mystery! As such he is often going to appear unconventional in his modus operandi. And the virgin birth of Jesus is one of the greatest evidences of God’s mysterious and perplexing nature.
Please look with me at verses 18-20. “Now this is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé...”
More literally the word here is “betrothed.” Hebrew engagements had two stages – early engagement or promise, often arranged in childhood. Then a year’s betrothal before they moved in together. And Joseph and Mary were at stage two.
If they were following normal societal practices at the time Mary would have been between 12 and 14 years of age.
We know very little about Joseph other than that he was a carpenter, the son of a man named Jacob, and of the family line of King David. Church tradition has it that Joseph was significantly older than Mary, a widower, who had children from the earlier marriage. It seems plausible but we don’t know these details for sure.
We do know that he was a man of unusual character and grace.
Verse 19 – “Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly. As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
This child is not the offspring of a normal union – as wonderful as such children are.
This is a child born from the mysterious intervention of God. The Holy Spirit somehow circumvents the normal process of insemination – and Mary finds herself mysteriously impregnated through an act of God.
This news is so outrageous that it requires angelic visions for both Mary and Joseph to actually believe that this is God in all of his mystery at work.
And there is a lot of mystery here:
• How can a woman get pregnant without a man?