Nine Months Before Christmas by Rev. Iver Martin
The conception of Jesus is a mystery. When, in response to Gabriel’s announcement that she would become pregnant, the startled Mary asked, “How will this be?”, the angel’s reply was shrouded in the most discrete language, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” Such a conception would happen in a unique and miraculous moment, in which the science that governs human beginning would be overridden in order to facilitate the incarnation of the Son of God.
There are two reasons why I believe in the virgin birth, incredible as it sounds (and is!). For one thing, the plain sense of biblical narrative demands it. If I am to believe that Jesus had the divine power to walk on water, feed 5000 people, raise the dead and change water into wine, why should I not believe that the God who invented conception has every right to tamper with it.
But there is another important reason. If Jesus had been conceived normally, by means of a human father and mother, he would simply be a human, and nothing more. What’s more, he would be incapable of saving sinful, fallen humanity because he too would need to be rescued from his own sinfulness. On the other hand, when Jesus was miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit within the womb of Mary it meant that, for the first and only time in history, there was an instantaneous combination of the human with the divine. The divine Person was clothed in real humanity, “created from the substance of the Virgin”, so that he could represent us perfectly before God and take our place on the cross as the God-Man.
Jesus’ humanity wasn’t simply an appearance. Nor did the Son of God change from being God into a human. There was no compromise, confusion nor reduction in God. He was, and continued to be “very God, begotten not created”, yet conceived in a human womb and born into a world where he would suffer its restrictions and miseries, and where, for our sin, he would one day die in darkness, shame and agony.
This week we rejoice at the birth of Jesus. We remember the visible spectacle of angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the wise men, and, of course, the baby Jesus, wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. We sing about the King who came “from a throne of endless glory to a cradle in the dirt”. We worship the God who made light shine out of darkness in the Person of his Son. But if we believe, as we do, that life begins at conception, then the moment of greatest mystery was unseen by anyone. It was when, nine months before the manger, in a split second, a cell became two, God made himself microscopic in the womb of a teenage girl and the wheels of our salvation were set in motion.