by Rev. Paul Nielsen, Waterville, Maine
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary. How does your garden grow?"
"You'd never believe it if I told you," says Mary.
"Oh but Mary, we do believe. And what we believe in our hearts we confess with our lips."
"We believe in Jesus Christ - who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin - you."
"Mary, Mary, we know how your garden grows, and with you, we magnify the Lord and our spirit also rejoices in God, our Savior."
Even Mary had a hard time believing all of this at first. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" A virgin and a mother are two mutually exclusive categories to our way of seeing things. A virgin mother is an oxymoron. Mary wanted to know, "how can I be simultaneously virgin and mother?"
In all of human history there had never been a virgin mother. There were women who conceived and gave birth to a child even though they were past the child bearing age - Sarah for instance. There were women who gave birth to a child even though they were infertile - Rebecca and Hannah for instance. But never had there been a woman who gave birth to a child even though she was a virgin.
As miraculous as it was that Sarah became pregnant, it would never have happened had she and Abraham not 'known' each other - which, by the way, was their great act of obedience of faith in the Word of the Lord. As miraculous as it was, Rebecca and Hannah would never have conceived and born the sons that they did had they not 'known' their husbands, Jacob and Elkanah, respectively. Which was also their great act of obedience of faith in the Word of the Lord that came to them.
So, Mary's question is really quite biblical and very practical. She knows her Old Testament and her mother has obviously had that little mother/daughter talk about the birds and the bees with her. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
Mary needs some instruction. She believes what she hears but she needs to understand what it means. She needs Confirmation Class and Bible Study - and so do you. Gabriel is Mary's instructor in the faith. He explains, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God." "Oh and by the way Mary, you left out one example of post-menopausal women who became pregnant." "Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren." And then, as if to answer Mary's next question before she had a chance to ask it, he said, "For nothing is impossible with God."
Mary would be the 'one of a kind' virgin mother, for whom alone, the term would not be an oxymoron. The child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He would be her natural born son, with a full compliment of DNA. But, He would also be 'holy, the Son of God,' with a full compliment of the deity of the Godhead dwelling in Him. (Col.2:9). Mary would be the one and only virgin mother who would also be simultaneously mother of Jesus and mother of God.
Luther says that here, "God demonstrated that he could create humans in more ways than one." In the beginning, God created the first man, Adam out of the dust of the earth by breathing His breath into his nostrils, and the man became a living being. Second, God created the first woman, Eve by the rib that he took from Adam's side. Third, God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. And so Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain. But now, God is about to do a new thing. An unheard of thing. A one of a kind thing. The likes of which will bring every human being ever conceived in either of these three ways to their knees with tongues confessing that this child of Mary's is the Son of the Most High - either to their salvation or to their judgment. God will produce a child from a virgin." (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther. Baker Book House Co. v.7, p.288).
This is the creation that God had in mind from the beginning when he announced to the serpent in the garden that the seed of the woman (not the man and the woman) would crush his head. Sometime later, when the time had partially come, God announced through His prophet Isaiah that, "the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14). And finally, "when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman (not a man and a woman), born under the law to redeem those under the law." (Gal. 4:4).
Authors and filmmakers have tried to picture this in human terms and in physical ways but it was surely nothing like that. Mary became pregnant by way of her ears. She heard the Word of God spoken by the messenger Gabriel and that Word created faith in her heart and life in her womb. The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed the waters from which came life, overshadowed Mary. And from Mary comes the Word who was in the beginning apart from whom nothing was made that has been made and who now takes on human flesh and makes His dwelling among us. (John 1:3,14).
So, Mary would be simultaneously virgin and mother, mother of Jesus and mother of God and the child conceived in her would be simultaneously Son of Man and Son of God. And all of this while she herself was simultaneously sinner and saint. Mary herself was one of those whom the child conceived in her was born to redeem.
Here is where we see Mary in direct counterpoint to Eve. Eve listened to the word of the devil and that word conceived doubt in her and Eve gave birth to Cain - who murders his brother. Mary listened to the Word of the Lord and that word conceived faith in her and Mary gave birth to Jesus – who saves his brothers and sisters.
To many, the idea of a virgin birth is inconceivable. (Pardon the pun.) Sadly, even among many who call themselves Christian and claim to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the virgin birth of Christ is an embarrassing absurdity, a superstitious myth. But we confess what we believe. 'I believe in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.' Our hearts are not held captive to our minds but to the Word of God. To paraphrase Luther here, "the God who put the brain in our skull surely knows more than we do. The God who put the eyes in our head surely sees more than we do."
Belief in the virgin birth of Christ is just as indispensable to the assurance of faith as is belief in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. St. Paul says that if Christ be not raised then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. Likewise, if Christ be not conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. As the resurrection of Christ from the dead serves as the sign of divine approval of what He did by offering His life as a sacrifice for all, so His holy conception and virgin birth serve as the divinely designated sign of who He is. It is only because He is the 'Son of the Most High' that He is raised from the dead and given 'the throne of his father David, reigns over the house of Jacob forever and of whose kingdom there will be no end.'
And besides, how could it ever be that we who sit here this morning would not believe that a child could be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a woman? How, when we have all been born in just that way? Yes, we have each been born in the normal human way through a mother and a father. A normal human birth that by the way, begs for a rebirth, a chance to be born again. "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" confesses David in Psalm 51. (Psalm 51:5).
But through Holy Baptism we have each been born again through the power of the Most High Who came upon you and overshadowed you in the water and the Word of Baptism. "To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." (John 1:12-13).
"Flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to spirit- You must be born again." (John 3:6).
Just as the baby born of Mary is 'conceived by the Holy Spirit' and therefore the 'Holy One of God,' we who are conceived by the same Holy Spirit through waters of Baptism and the hearing of His Word are born of God and therefore holy ones of God. We who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born not by flesh but of the same Spirit, also share in the resurrection of the dead with Him who was likewise conceived, born and raised from the dead.
To all of this Mary says, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Mary shows us what the making of life with God looks like. In humility and true faith she shows us the ideal relationship with God. Here is how we humans who are conceived and born of the Holy Spirit interact with our Father who art in heaven. "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
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