“Born of a Virgin”
Part 3 of “This We Believe” Series
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Second Sunday after Pentecost – BOTH Services
Luke 1:26, 27, 35
“…who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary…”
One of the great mysteries of our faith centers on how Jesus entered this world…what we refer to as “the incarnation.” Both Scripture and The Apostles’ Creed are clear about this issue…the problem is our inability to understand how it happened. God – who was, is, and always will be – came from his spiritual, eternal home and took on human flesh and walked around in our history for a while…This mysterious Being that somehow exists as three distinct persons in this eternal, spiritual realm remained in control of the universe while – at the same time – he was born as an infant into the world he created…God – who spoke and everything was – now becomes what John called, “the Word made flesh”…This is the mystery that leads us to stand in awe and worship the God who can do all this. Now maybe you can understand why I asked Alan to include “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” in today’s music…Charles Wesley wrote those words that include this in verse 2: Christ by highest Heaven adored; Christ the everlasting lord! Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity; pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. (UMH #240) Clearly, these words challenge us to believe that God became human and remained God with us – Emmanuel. We are meant to understand that Jesus was BOTH – fully God and fully man…He is not some mixture of the two; he is not half-and-half…He is completely BOTH – God and Man – united in a single person. Our words cannot effectively describe it; nor can our brains truly comprehend it; that is what makes this a Divine mystery.
While no illustration we can devise will ever properly explain the great mysteries of our faith, Dr. Tennent asks us to consider Mark Twain’s story, “The Prince and the Pauper”…You may remember that this story tells us of a son of King Henry VIII, and heir to the throne…He meets a poor ragged boy in the streets and they realize that they look remarkably alike…The two agree to change places for a time…The Prince, the heir to the throne, goes out into the streets of London dressed like a beggar and nobody recognizes him…People treated him badly, pushed him aside, and spat on him, not knowing who he really was…If we take this story and think of Jesus we realize that is exactly what God did…He put on our humanity and walked among us…Most people did not recognize him and treated him badly, even spitting on him…Hear these words from John’s gospel: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him…yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
OK, so now we get the part about Jesus being fully God and fully man, right? We understand that whole concept and we can move on… “…born of the Virgin Mary…” That’s simple enough isn’t it? Well, maybe not so much. The idea of including Mary in our statement of faith can be troubling for some people…“Isn’t that a Catholic thing? Don’t they worship Mary or something?” The answer to both questions is – NO. God came into the world because of Mary, one of God’s most faithful servants…Every Christian should honor Mary because of her extraordinary humility, obedience, and submission to the will of God…The fact that her name is mentioned in The Apostles’ Creed is an indication of the reverence we should have for this remarkable woman…Notice that there are only two people mentioned in the creed – Pontius Pilate and Mary…We’ll talk about Pilate next week; but it’s important to note that Mary is the only person of faith named in the Creed…That fact alone tells us that this woman is someone very special…Mary is a constant reminder to us that obedience to God is not something reserved for the saints in heaven; ordinary people can and do submit themselves completely to God’s will…Dr. Tennent says this: “Indeed, in the wonderful providence of God, the great themes of salvation and redemption do not unfold on the earth apart from many small acts of obedience and faithfulness by people like you and me.” Mary’s example cries out to us to be part of God’s plan for redemption by being obedient…God chooses to redeem the world with the cooperation and involvement of people like us.
Finally, we need to understand why any of this really matters to us as the church…Why was it necessary for Jesus to be born from a virgin and to be conceived, not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit? Why was this so important that it was included in The Apostles’ Creed, which by all accounts, represents only the central core of the Christian faith? What difference would it make if this were not part of our faith and teaching? The answers to these questions are found in the understanding that Jesus must be without sin. If you study the sacrificial traditions of ancient civilizations, you see that sacrifices made to God must always be spotless, blameless, innocent…To fulfill these requirements Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, must be sinless and perfect, even while wearing the flesh of His humanity. We must also understand the concept of how we are declared to be sinners…First, we all actually do commit sinful acts all the time…we turn away from God; we ignore God; we do whatever we please. So, we sin by what we do and what we leave undone.
Second, we are also declared sinners because we share in the guilt of Adam’s rebellion in the Garden…Adam was “the representative” man whose act of disobedience draws us all into his rebellion…This is the original sin we hear so much about and the nature of all humanity being born into sin. In order for Jesus to truly be the spotless Lamb of God he must not only live a sinless life, he must also be born without the stain of Adam’s guilt…Conception by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Birth solve this dilemma by making sure that Jesus remains forever sinless…Jesus really comes into the world as the Second Adam with the same choices to obey or disobey the will of God…Jesus chooses obedience and thus saves all of humanity from the rebellion that led us to our sinful nature in the first place…Because of this complete God/an nature of Jesus Christ we are given a chance to also choose obedience for ourselves.
The Incarnation is an amazing mystery that we may never fully comprehend, but our faith in its truth tells us that when we meet Jesus, when we see Jesus, we see the face of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen