The Christmas season is with us once again. What a wonderful time it is for the church of Jesus Christ! And what an amazing thing it is that we are privileged to commemorate these days—the miracle of Bethlehem! There is your salvation, centrally realized in the eternal Word become flesh. There the wonder of all wonders, the Incarnation, is accomplished via the sign of all signs, the Virgin Birth. There infinite justice and equally infinite grace unite to give life out of death, light out of darkness, blessed hope for utter despair, beauty for ashes, heaven for hell. All this in the night wherein Jesus was born—for lost and damn-worthy sinners like you and me! Blessed Christmas! “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!”
Therefore it was on that occasion, and no other, that the angelic hosts filled Ephratah’s night with their joyous refrain, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Never before in history had this happened; never after. Is it a wonder?
Come then, let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, this mystery of godliness, this Incarnation of the Living God, this miracle of Bethlehem. Who is this wondrous Infant, Whom shepherds and magi and a throng no man can number from all nations and tribes and kindreds worship as their Redeemer? What is that thing that came to pass that first Christmas night, so blessed to the heart of God’s church? Who lies there in that blessed manger? What happened?
Wise men of the world, devoid of all grace, go to Bethlehem, glance at the manger, at that Child so like all other children apparently, and conclude in their carnal self-confidence: nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Another baby was born, this time to Joseph and Mary. It happens all the time. True, he was destined to be illustrious above all other men. He was endowed with special gifts with a view to a special task among men. Even so, he was mere man, nothing more.
Others, unbelievers as well, have gone to Bethlehem, studied the child, and concluded: that child is neither God nor man. He is a sort of intermediate creature, made in eternity by God and come into the world in the mere form, the appearance of the human nature.
The church of God, however, has confessed from the moment “this thing came to pass” it is the mystery of godliness! That babe is not a mere infant among infants. He is God and man, the promised Redeemer. His name is Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace! God blessed forever! True, this mystery of godliness was not at once so clear to God’s church, that she could formulate and circumscribe the entire doctrine involved in the simple and clear-cut language we now have in our confessions. This took much study of the Scriptures, and much controversy too. However, after long years of both she came to ever greater clarity of conception, so that we are now able to confess, briefly but comprehensively: “That God’s eternal Son, Who is and continueth true and eternal God, took upon Him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost; that He might also be the true seed of David, like unto His brethren in all things, sin excepted.” Catechism, Lord’s Day 14. (See also articles 18 and 19 of our Belgic Confession.)
That Infant of Bethlehem, therefore, is God’s eternal Son, the Second Person of the adorable Trinity. That Son is the one and only person involved in the miracle of the Incarnation. Christ is no human person, nor is he two persons somehow. “The Word became flesh.” “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Whenever the Mediator says “I” the eternally begotten of the Father speaks, no human person in any sense of the word.
That Infant, personally the Son of God, is, according to the divine nature, true and eternal God. This He remains forever and ever. Coessential with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son lives eternally the full divine life in the full divine essence. His are all the divine names and attributes. He is and forever remains true, righteous, holy, omnipotent, immutable God. This is in no way changed by the Incarnation. Wherefore it is written concerning that same Infant: “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever,” Romans 9:5.
However, that Infant is God’s eternal Son, Who is and forever remains true and eternal God, in the nature of man. The Son became God and man, even so, that while He, as God, lives the full divine life eternally, He, as man, lives the full human life in a perfectly human way.
That, briefly and simply, is the incomprehensible but infinitely glorious miracle of the Incarnation of the Word, “the thing which is come to pass.” That is the miracle of Bethlehem.
Concerning this union of the divine and the human nature in the one person of the Son of God, the Church of Christ, as early as the year 451, has emphasized: that they are “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably” united.
Never, therefore, may these two natures of the Mediator be confused, that is, fused into one. That has been and is being done by all who conceive of the Christ as a sort of God-man, theanthropos, a being who is neither God nor man, but a mixture of the two. Of course, then all is lost. Then God does not remainGod, and man does not remain man. Then Creator and creature are fused into one and you have fallen into pure Pantheism. With an eye to this heresy we confess that the two natures are united “inconfusedly.” Never do they become one. The unity must not be sought in the natures, but in the one person who lives in and through both natures, in the one as God, in the other as man.
By the same token neither nature may be presented as having undergone any essential change in the Incarnation. True, the Son of God came in the form of a servant, in the likeness of sinful flesh. Even so, the Godhead did not change. True, too, the human nature was endowed with special gifts by virtue of its miraculous union with the divine. Even so, the human nature remained wholly human, in Bethlehem and forever more.
The two natures of Christ, so the church continues to confess, are “indivisibly” united. There was nothing lacking in either nature, to be filled in, somehow, by the other. The complete human nature was united with the complete divine nature, and that in the single person of the Son of God.
Finally, the divinity and humanity of the Mediator were “inseparably” united. Both extremes, therefore, that of confusion as well as separation of the two natures, stand condemned. Again, however, the unity must never be sought in the natures as such, but only in the one Person, Who lives in and through the two natures.
Truly, the mystery of godliness is great! God manifest in the flesh! Eternally incomprehensible to us mortals, yet knowable unto salvation.
How could this thing come to pass? That wonderful Infant must have been born in a wonderful way! And so He was!
He was “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Thus that Christ-child, so like and yet so unlike all other children, was born in a way, so like and yet so unlike the birth of any other child.
He was born of Mary. How simple, how perfectly natural, how like the birth of any child! Jesus’ mother was simply one of the women of our human race, like any other covenant woman: And yet, how significant are these words: “Born of . . . Mary.”
Thus we know, that the Son of God became very, that is, real man. Born as all children are born, out of one of the women of our race, He assumed our flesh and blood. He was not a foreigner to our race, nor was the blood He shed on Calvary strange blood. In that event, it could never have atoned for our sins. He was one of us.
Thus we know, too, that God’s Son assumed the flesh and blood of the children. And this was necessary to save His elect. He had to be of the seed of Abraham, out of the house of David, like unto his brethren. Born of Mary He became all this. Here, if ever, we must stress the covenant line. Israel’s Redeemer must take hold of the human nature in the very core of the covenant of God. He must come as the Elect of all the elect, and hence out of and in their very midst.
Out of Mary He assumed the weakened human nature. Christ took our flesh and blood, not as Adam bore it before he fell into sin, but as Mary herself bore it. He assumed the corruptible, mortal, weak human nature. Truly, He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, Rom. 8:3. Mind you, He did not come in the likeness of flesh, nor did He come in the sinful flesh. In either case we would have no Redeemer. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, and thus became like unto us in all things.
Sin excepted! He knew no guilt, because He was not a human person and guilt is reckoned to the person. And He was without stain of sin, because He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and preserved from all pollution in Mary’s womb.
“Born of the Virgin Mary!” Oh, wonder of wonders. There is the miracle in the physical aspect of the Savior’s birth that corresponds to the mighty miracle of Bethlehem itself, the Incarnation.
How the modern world opposes this miraculous conception and birth of the Lord Jesus we know. Scoffing at the whole idea she says in her arrogancy and consummate stupidity: it is scientifically impossible that a child should be conceived without the will of a man. Setting herself up as an exegete as well she posits: the word “virgin” in Scripture also refers to a young married woman. It has this connotation in Isaiah 7:14, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son:” And turning theologian this same modern world postulates: it is not necessary that Jesus be born without the wil1 of man; the Son could as well have assumed humanity of both Joseph and Mary.
To the world as scientist we reply: we know very well that in the course of human events it is not the usual thing for children to be conceived without the instrumentality of the male. However, why should it be deemed impossible? In the last instance all children are conceived, not by man, but by the mighty will of God. Why then can God, Who “alone is God, not do without the medium of mortal man, if such be His desire? Is the Creator bound by His own creature? To the world as exegete we say: Really, it makes no difference to our present subject what the word “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 may or may not mean. Matthew could not state more clearly than he does, that Mary was still unmarried when “found with child of the Holy Ghost”; that for that reason Joseph “was minded to put her away privily,” suspecting her of infidelity and dishonor; that while in that state of mind the angel of the Lord came to Joseph to tell him that he must not fear to take Mary to wife, “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” One may deny the Virgin Birth, but certainly not without willful rejection of the Word of God itself.
To the world as theologian we say: it was no doubt necessary from every point of view that Jesus be born without the will of man. This necessity follows from the very fact that it took place in this manner. Whatever a modern world may think of this argument, to us it means everything that God brought His Son into the world in just this way. It was necessary in order that all the world, and the church in particular, might know that the Infant of Bethlehem was indeed the promised Messiah. It was necessary, because that which is of the flesh is flesh; because mere man could never beget a nature fit to be the habitation of the: eternal. Son of God; and because only the eternal God Himself can prepare such a nature in the Womb of the virgin Mary.
To the world in whatever capacity, we say: you refuse to accept this miracle of the Virgin Birth only because you refuse to accept this miracle of the Virgin Birth only because you refuse to accept the miracle of the Incarnation itself. You cannot believe the one because you will not believe the other. For on who believes the incarnation, there is nothing more easy to believe than the virgin birth. In fact, the more deeply we enter into the Incarnation itself, the more deeply we feel that it is as proper as inevitable that such a miracle should involve a corresponding miracle in the physical aspect of the birth. With the late Professor B. Warfield we say, “To Christianity it would have been unnatural if the birth of the Savior had been natural.”
Hence, the confession of the church of all ages stands: “Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Thus the Holy Spirit, not the will of man, is the efficient cause of the conception. And Mary became pregnant by a direct work of God Himself, Who through the Spirit prepared humanity in the most blessed among women, and with that divinely conceived humanity united the Person of the Son of God. A profound mystery, you say? Of course! Is not all conception an unfathomable mystery? How then shall the Incarnation be anything else?
Wonderful thing that is come to pass!
Thus, and thus only can He be the Lamb of God, without spot and blemish, in Whom we have reconciliation with the Living God.
Thus, and thus only can He apply that reconciliation and perfect redemption to His own and presently glorify them forever more.
Blessed miracle of Bethlehem!