A little more than 2,000 years ago, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4, NKJV). It was exactly the right time, as predicted by Daniel (cf. 9:25) and confirmed by Jesus (cf. Luke 19:41-44).
It was also the right place—Bethlehem, six miles south of Jerusalem. Seven hundred years earlier, Micah wrote:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting. (Mic. 5:2)
The time was right, the place was right, and the circumstances were right. It was not to the high and mighty in Israel that the first coming—the incarnation—of Messiah/Christ was celebrated by “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13) in heaven and on earth. It was to a group of lowly “shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8).
Seven hundred years before Christ (i.e., Messiah) was born, the prophet Isaiah was told that He would be one person with two natures—divine and human.
At a time of great crisis for Israel, the house of David was given a great promise. “Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son [i.e., fully human], and shall call His name Immanuel [i.e., God with us, fully divine]’” (Isa. 7:13-14). In the very next chapter, the prophet is told that the God of Israel is “Immanuel” (Isa. 8:8; cf. 8:10).
But how could a virgin have a child? That was the urgent question that Mary asked Gabriel, the messenger-angel sent from God: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). The answer was astounding, and is recorded by Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14): “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit [i.e., the third person of the triune God] will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God…. For with God nothing will be impossible’ ” (Luke 1:35-37).
Please note here the ultimate marvel: the reason why her child would be “holy” (i.e., without a sin nature) is not because she was holy (for Mary confessed her need of a Savior—Luke 1:47; cf. 11:27, 28; 18:19), but because the Holy Spirit would “come upon” her and “overshadow” her. The stupendous miracle of the incarnation (i.e., a divine person adding a true human nature to His personhood without becoming two persons) was essential for our salvation. He was not just a man—not even a sinless man (like Adam before his fall)—but one person who was both God and man who was thus fully capable of paying for the sins of the whole world upon the cross. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:9, 10).
This article is republished from the archives (December, 2008).
One of the perennially favorite debates among conservative Christians is about the observance of Christmas. While most Christians celebrate Christmas with joy and enthusiasm, a small minority object on one or more of several grounds. Some say that Christmas is a pagan holiday. Others insist that it is a Romanist holiday (as evidenced by the “mass” at the end of the name). Yet others object that it violates the Rule of Prescription or, as the Reformed call it, the Regulative Principle. This is the rule or principle that restricts the order of the church to elements that are directly authorized by Scripture, and particularly by the New Testament.
The argument that Christmas is a pagan day hardly seems worth troubling with. Much of this argument is based on speculation. The much-repeated suggestion that the date of Christmas and the custom of gift-giving were copied from the Roman Saturnalia is an example of such speculation. Little real evidence exists to support it. True, late Romans do seem to have exchanged gifts around the Saturnalia, which was observed in late December and early January. A real question exists, however, as to who influenced whom. That Christians borrowed the celebration from pagans is a conceit of the Enlightenment. It could just as easily have been the other way around.
“Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 70 percent of American adults prefer retailers to use ‘Merry Christmas’ signs. Twenty-four percent of those polled would rather see ‘Happy Holidays.’”
What a remarkable woman. She was a bride already during her teen years. Exactly when the marriage had been covenanted is uncertain, but she was reckoned as a wife. Her husband was an older man, and he was still waiting (for what? maturity?) before taking her to him. Though husband and wife, they had never lived together, nor ever slept together. She was still a virgin bride.
Her husband was a son of kings. She could trace her own family line back to the greatest of the kings of her people. Centuries had passed, however, since any of that king’s lineage had worn the crown. A curse had been uttered over one of her husband’s ancestors, and every son of the lawful bloodline was barred from the throne.
She was of a different line. She and her husband shared that common ancestor—the great king—but for nearly a thousand years their fathers had built separate houses. Only her husband’s house could lawfully rule the kingdom. And the sons of that house were cursed.
So here she was, a daughter of a king, betrothed to the son of kings, but living in a backwater of a conquered nation. She exercised none of the prerogatives of royalty, nor did she expect that she ever would. Her husband—this son of kings—was a carpenter, a builder by trade.
Could anything have been further from her mind than an angelic visitation? Yet there he was, an ancient and dreadful presence, greeting her, saying that she was “highly favored” (filled to the bursting-point with God’s grace), and pronouncing her “blessed among women.” No wonder she paled and trembled.
Yet the appalling magnificence brought astounding news. She had found grace in the eyes of God, he said. She was about to conceive and give birth to a son who would be a most unusual person. He would be called the son of the Most High. He would be given the throne of the great king. He would rule over the nation, once chosen but now conquered. Furthermore, His kingdom would never end.