Christmas is heaven's marvel. It is beyond us and yet with us.
The birth of God! It took place in Bethlehem. The theologians refer to this marvel as the "incarnation."
This is truly the marvelous paradox in our midst: God had no beginning, yet Bethlehem is his start. God is the author of life, yet he comes to life in a castoff barn. God, the creator of all, is created in Mary's womb. The Eternal One becomes earth-bound. The Invisible becomes visible.
The Immortal becomes mortal. The Immeasurable becomes measurable. The Timeless and Spatially Limitless One becomes logged into this globe's time and space.
Why, it is the marvel of all history and eternity! It is the miraculous intersecting of history and eternity in the revelation of the Person.
What this birth does not signify is that the incarnate One is sinful. He is not sinner, but holy One born of a virgin. However, continuing the complexity of the simple, he does come to earth to become sin for us. The Lamb of God is destined to become scapegoat for humanity!
His name? Jesus Christ. The "Jesus" is his human name and nature--Jehovah--redeemer, deliverer. The "Christ" is the same as "Messiah", referring to his divine name and nature--anointed one, king. So it is, the marvel, Jesus Christ is both human and divine-the Godman-"Emmanuel" or "God with us."
Mother Mary was a teen Jewess who lived in Nazareth. She became a part of the marvel in her own simplicity. We know not her mother's name nor her father's name. We know not whether she had brothers and sisters. But we do know that Mary was spiritually excellent, even as a youth before God. She was holy, strong, wise and loyal to her faith.
Joseph was a teen fellow who resided as a carpenter in Nazareth. We know his father's name was Jacob. Joseph too was spiritually keen, sanctified before God, caring and kind. However, after Jesus' twelfth birthday, we read nothing more about Joseph.
Jesus was born of a virgin conception. We often hear of his coming into this world by way of a "virgin birth." But it was actually more precisely a virgin conception which led to a virgin birth. In other words, the father of Jesus was none other than the Holy Spirit. That accounts for
Jesus' divinity, his holiness from conception.
Joseph then was Jesus' foster father.
Mary provided Jesus with his humanity. Through her womb the divine came into the human race. There has been no other conception like this conception. It is the crux of the marvel. So it is that the Christian accepts this by faith. If this cannot be "faithed," then nothing can.
For instance, to accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ but discount His virgin conception is nonsense. Indeed to accept the resurrection account but put aside the virgin truth is selfishness at its most insulting obvious.
You see, there are those who want to believe in the risen Christ because that gives them hope that there is a heaven beyond death. They bask in this assurance. Easter is the highlight for their faith, their preaching and teaching. However, some of these same persons look askance at the virgin conception as simply unbelievable, a fable, myth, a legend manufactured by some gospel writers who were a bit crazed.
In other words, it is fashionable in some theological quarters to leap by faith into the empty tomb but it is likewise fashionable to downplay Mary impregnated by the third person of the holy trinity. It would be more believable simply to conclude that Joseph is the logical father of Jesus, they say. After all, why not?
Consequently, there is at times by some the explaining away of the virgin conception through their demythologizing, that is, their scissoring out the first chapters of the Gospel of Matthew and Luke in order to make the record more scientifically palatable.
No. Speaking of logic, to see through the above is unreasonable at its most evident brash selfish thrust. Why should one accept the miracle of a dead man coming back alive when one cannot accept a marvelous, miraculous start to such a Creature's existence? If he can defy death and the grave, he can entrance this human existence in a miraculous turn of nature and law.
The New Testament record itself knows nothing of separating the virgin conception from the resurrection possibilities. Both are presented as sheer fact.
They are offered as that which occurred-no debate, no argument, no quibbling. Then to be consistent with the scriptural writings, one should at least remain in line with the scriptural modus operandi, that is, its own approach to history and faith.
The New Testament maintains a consistent logic of human-divine presence from start to finish-miracle at the beginning and miracle at the closing. In other words, the incarnation is the source of that which is beyond human calculations, such being the only reasonable means by which to accept the intrusion of the miracle working God into the affairs of humankind.
There is therefore no break, no contest, no competition between the start and conclusion of Jesus Christ's biography as presented in the four Gospels. What is given is a given. It is considered historical empirical evidence accepted by faith.
How marvelous! The God of life (Easter) then can spark His own life (Christmas) as he wills, even by coming into the human family by way of the Holy Spirit's moving upon the womb of a teen Jewess.
Mary's womb, miracle presence birthing the Son of God and the Son of Man. The womb is filled with the presence God!
Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, miracle presence emptying the grave of the resurrected body of the Son of God and the Son of Man. The tomb is filled with the absence of God! He is in the Garden, just where Jesus was always to be found-with His own-caring, uplifting, enlightening, revealing.
It is, in short, marvel--from start to finish! Praise be to the Father. And to the Son. And to the Holy Ghost. Amen.
J. Grant Swank Jr.