There have been many important births since the dawn of humanity. Consider the births of the scientists who have given us things that make life easier. There have been researchers who have discovered treatments and cures for diseases and ailments. Great humanitarians who, through their tireless efforts, have eased the pain of many and helped them live productive lives. The births of those who grew up to be preachers and missionaries have blessed those to whom they have ministered. However, one birth stands far above the rest. It is the most important birth there ever was or ever will be. It is the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Word became flesh (John 1:1-18)
Jesus’ coming in flesh as a man is called the ‘incarnation’, a word that means ‘in the flesh’. The clear record of the Bible tells us that Jesus is God in human form. First, we must remember that Jesus existed prior to His incarnation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-3, 14 ESV, cf. Colossians 1:15-17).
In one of Jesus’ prayers, He prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5 ESV). Clearly, Jesus did not begin His existence when He appeared as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. He had already existed from eternity past.
Date of Jesus’ birth: c. 6 or 5 BC
Briefly, historians say the birth of Jesus occurred around 6 or 5 BC. The Bible tells us that Jesus was born in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus’ birth took place at the time in history God chose. He had promised humanity a Savior in Genesis (3:15); and then set about to prepare humanity for the Savior’s arrival. God’s providence had arranged everything to culminate in the birth of the Savior in that stable on that night. The birth of the One who would give His life to pay for our sins.
Gabriel visits Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Luke 1:26-38 tells us the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. This must have been quite unnerving for Mary, a visit from a heavenly being telling her that she, a virgin, has been chosen to give birth to the Savior of the world. Mary was initially frightened until Gabriel told her that she had found favor with God. Gabriel explained to her that she would conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers rightly celebrate Jesus’ birth, but it was actually a normal birth; if being born in a stable can be called normal, that is. However, His conception was a one-time event that was unique in all of history.
The angel told Mary a few things about her soon-to-be-son:
- He was to be called “Jesus” (1:31);
- He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High (1:32);
- God will give Him the throne of David (1:32);
- there will be no end to His kingdom (1:33);
- He will be called Holy-the Son of God (1:35).
Gabriel assured Mary these things would surely take place because, “…nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37 ESV). Mary and the angel ended their conversation with Mary humbling herself to the will of God.
Angel visits Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25)
At this time, Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married. In their culture, when a man and woman were engaged it was very much as if they were married, only without sexual relations. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided that he should divorce her without any publicity. Joseph was probably very confused about the situation. He believed he was marrying a virgin, and now he discovers that she is pregnant. People would think that Mary had been unfaithful to her spouse already. Still Joseph could have made a public spectacle of Mary, disgrace her publicly in order to preserve his pride. However, apparently, Joseph was a better man and decided to divorce Mary quietly.
However, God had other plans for Joseph. In Matthew 1:18-25, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream reassuring him that Mary’s pregnancy was a gift from God and that Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Once again, the angel included in its message that the baby’s name was to be “…Jesus, for he will save his people form their sins” (1:21 ESV). The name ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of a Hebrew word meaning “Jehovah will save”. Even the name God gave Jesus testified to His mission in life. Believing the Word from God, Joseph took Mary as his wife.
Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7)
Caesar Augustus called for a census to be taken of all those dwelling in his realm. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but were required by the Roman government to make the trip to Bethlehem in order to register in the census. The census was taken in order to assess the population for tax purposes. Thus, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though his parents’ home was in Nazareth. This fulfilled the prophecy of His birth found in Micah 5:2.
Since this was the time of the census, the city of Bethlehem would be brimming with out-of-towners. For whatever reason, Joseph and Mary could find no suitable accommodations. Then, the time came for Jesus to be born. Apparently, Joseph and Mary searched for some place that she could deliver a baby in relative privacy. Most believe that place was a stable, because the Bible says the baby Jesus was placed in a manger, which is a feeding trough for animals, at His birth.
I am purposefully avoiding too much theological pondering in this article. I want to focus on what it would have been like that night with Joseph and Mary. They had traveled roughly 70 miles from their hometown in order to participate in this census. However, that was just what was taking place on the outside. Their spirits must have been soaring, knowing what the angels had told them, knowing the time was near for Mary to give birth to God’s Son, knowing that they had been chosen to participate in this incredible plan of God’s to save mankind from sin. The hardships of the journey, and their lack of better accommodations, could hardly have made a dent in the overwhelming joy they must have been experiencing. It just seems reasonable that a loving God would bless their experience in a most powerful way. This was God coming into the world in human flesh. I cannot help picture the entire event as something blessed by God in a way that is unique to that particular time and place. What an incredible story. Truly, the greatest story ever told.
The Christmas story of Jesus’ birth has always been special to me. The warmth I feel in my heart at Christmas time is more than the hot chocolate, or the Christmas tree lights at night, or any of the other fond memories I have of the holiday season. It feels like God spreads His love on humanity a little thicker during the Christmas season. It is as if He is reminding us that the gift of His Son, that He gave us so many years ago, should convince us of His love for us. A love that we should all seek to emulate and share with others.
Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of the Savior. It is my prayer that, this Christmas season, Christians will lovingly and prayerfully take the lead in turning the holidays back into a time of reflection on, and worship of, Jesus Christ.
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV).
Interested in reading more about Jesus and Christmas? Check out these articles:
Christmas Bible verses
10 Interesting Bible Facts about Jesus
10 Good Christmas Traditions
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV)
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In a small town Nazareth, there lived a young girl, Mary by name.
She has got an open heart and she loved God very much. Once Angel Gabriel* came to her.
He was sent by God. The angel told her that she would give birth to a son whose name would be Jesus.
In some time Mary and her husband Joseph started off to Bethlehem. The way was long. They went for several days. When they came to Bethlehem, they had no place to live in. Little time was left till Jesus’ birth. That is why they stayed in a cattleshed which was situated nearby.
Mary gave birth to their son there. She swaddles him and put into a crib.
That night herdsmen were grazing sheep on the fields near Bethlehem. Suddenly an angel appeared in front of them and said, “Do not be afraid. I am announcing great joy to you – God’s son has been born – Jesus. You will find the baby in swaddling clothes lying in the crib”.
And all of a sudden together with the angel there appeared the heavenly army praising God.
And the herdsmen hurried to the cattleshed. They found the baby there and bowed down to him.
When Jesus was born, a star started sparkling in the sky announcing about the birth of Jesus.
From different sides, three Sages (Magi) came following the light of that star *.
The sages entered the cattleshed which the light of the star pointed at. Seeing Mary with the baby there, they bowed down and offered gifts to them: gold, incense and oil.
Jesus was born on Earth to teach people to forgive. During all His life He worked great miracles and gave people the light of truth…
Since that time people have become able to forgive and find light in themselves.
And Christmas star starts sparkling in the sky reminding us about Shri Jesus and His forgiveness. Its light lights all Christmas stars on X-mas trees and in our hearts…
* By the way, did you know that, according to the Hindu tration, Angel Gabriel is Shri Hanuman, and the three Sages (the three Magi) are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
“Can you read that?” The tourist asked me, pointing to a large silver star bearing a Latin inscription: “Hic de virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est.”
“I’ll try,” I answered, and bringing to bear the full force of my meager Latin, attempted a translation: “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”
“Well, what do you think?” the man then asked. “Do you believe it?”
It was my first visit to the Holy Land, and I was standing in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The fortress-like Church of the Nativity is built over this grotto or cave where, according to tradition, Jesus Christ was born. A silver star inlaid in the marble floor is said to mark the exact spot where Jesus’ birth took place. I responded that, yes, I believe that Jesus Christ was miraculously conceived, but I doubted whether the silver star marked the spot of the birth.
The man, an agnostic, offered the opinion that Jesus was probably illegitimate, and that the Gospel accounts of the Virgin Birth were attempts to cover up that embarrassing fact. The Gospel writers, he speculated, simply borrowed the theme of supernatural birth from ancient pagan mythology.
Later, walking on the paved expanse of Manger Square outside the ancient church, we discussed the subject some more.
I explained that the term Virgin Birth refers to the virginal conception of Jesus; that is, the belief that Jesus was conceived in Mary by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, without the agency of a human father. The doctrine that Mary was the sole natural parent of Jesus is clearly taught in two New Testament passages, referred to as the infancy narratives: Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. They record Jesus’ supernatural conception as a historical fact. Matthew tells us:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit…. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”— which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:18, 22-23)
Luke records Mary’s reaction to the angel Gabriel’s announcement of the Virgin Birth:
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34-35)
Each of the writers approaches the story in a different way. Matthew’s Gospel was compiled for Jewish-Christian readers concerned with the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies. Luke, a Gentile Christian, wrote with the Greek and Roman world in mind. He had a more cosmopolitan audience—Christians of pagan background living outside of the Holy Land.
Notice Matthew’s account again: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). Matthew is telling the story from Joseph’s point of view. Joseph considered quietly terminating the betrothal. But an angel appeared to Joseph and reassured him: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (verse 20). Joseph accepted the divine plan.
As evidence for his Jewish readers that Jesus was their Messiah, Matthew adds that all this took place “to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’” (verses 22-23). This refers to Isaiah 7:14.
“The virgin shall conceive”
Through Isaiah, God promised to give his people a sign: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The Hebrew word translated as “virgin” is almah. It can mean either “virgin” or “young woman.”
The translators of the Septuagint (the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament) chose the Greek word parthenos, meaning virgin, as their rendering of almah. In reporting the birth of Jesus, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 from the Septuagint, using the Greek word parthenos. To Matthew, the virgin is clearly Mary; the child, Jesus Christ.
Many Christians accordingly understand Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy of a future event—the miraculous Incarnation of our Lord—though it may not have been recognized as a messianic passage in Isaiah’s day. Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy, for he was Immanuel—”God with us”—in the fullest sense. Only the Incarnation can explain how a child could be God with us.
The context of Isaiah further identifies this child with the Wonderful Child of Isaiah 9:6. That passage speaks of a child to be born, a son to be given—and then goes on to declare him Mighty God! This refers to the Messiah—the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ miraculous birth was a sign that God had come in the flesh to dwell with humanity. The child Jesus was the salvation of God—not from a physical enemy, but from sin.
With extra attention to the role of women, Luke tells the story through Mary’s eyes. In Luke’s account, we learn that God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth. Gabriel said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).
How could this be, Mary asked, as she was a virgin? Gabriel explained that this would not be a normal conception. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (verse 35).
Even though her pregnancy would surely be misunderstood and put her reputation at risk, Mary courageously accepted the extraordinary situation. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she declared. “May it be to me as you have said” (verse 38). By a miracle, one person of the Godhead entered into time and space and became a human embryo.
The Word became flesh
Those who believe in the Virgin Birth usually believe that God became flesh for our salvation. Those who do not accept the Virgin Birth are inclined to understand Jesus of Nazareth as only a human being.
The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is directly related to, but not identical with, that of the Incarnation. The Incarnation (literally, “embodiment”) is the doctrine affirming that the eternal Son of God added human flesh to his divinity, and became a human. This belief finds its clearest expression in the prologue to John’s Gospel: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
The doctrine of the Virgin Birth states that the conception of Jesus was miraculous, in that he had no human father. The Incarnation says that God became flesh; the Virgin Birth tells us a little more about how this was done. The Incarnation was a supernatural event and involved a special kind of birth. If the child to be born was merely human, there would have been no need for a supernatural conception.
The first man, Adam, for example, also came miraculously from the hand of God. He had neither father nor mother; there was no conception. But Adam was not God. God chose to enter into humanity—“enflesh” himself—by means of a miraculous Virgin Birth.
The wording of the passages in Matthew and Luke is clear: Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit. It was a miracle of God.
But with the rise of liberal theology—with its suspicion of everything miraculous—these biblical statements have come to be challenged on a variety of grounds. Among them is an alleged late origin of the birth accounts. This theory argues that as early Christian beliefs about Jesus developed, Christians began to add fictional elements to the basic story of Jesus’ life. The Virgin Birth, we are told, was simply their imaginative way of saying that Jesus Christ was God’s gift to humanity.
The Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal biblical scholars who voted on the words of Jesus and the Gospel writers, took this view. These scholars reject the biblical account of Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth, calling them “later creations.” Mary, they conclude, must have had sexual intercourse with Joseph or some other man.
Did New Testament writers engage in mythmaking, deliberately making Jesus Christ larger than life? Was he simply a “human prophet,” an “ordinary man of his time” who was later invested with a supernatural aura by well-meaning followers to “buttress their Christological dogma”?
Such theories are impossible to sustain. The two infancy accounts in Matthew and Luke—with their differing content and perspectives—are independent of each other. The miracle of Jesus’ conception is almost the only point in common between them. This indicates that the Virgin Birth is based on an earlier, common tradition, not a later theological interpolation or doctrinal development.
Despite its widespread acceptance by the early church, the Virgin Birth is a difficult concept for many in our modern culture—even some Christians—to embrace. The idea of a miraculous conception, many feel, smacks of superstition. They suggest that the Virgin Birth is an unimportant doctrine on the margin of the New Testament, of little importance to the message of the gospel.
This rejection of the miraculous is consistent with a rationalist and humanistic worldview. But for a Christian to eliminate the supernatural from the birth of Jesus Christ is to compromise its divine origin as well as its fundamental importance. If we believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and in his resurrection from the dead, why reject the Virgin Birth? If we can admit a supernatural exit, why not a supernatural entrance? Compromising or denying the Virgin Birth robs other doctrines of their value and significance. We are left with no foundation or authority for what we believe as Christians.
Born of God
God involves himself in the world, actively intervenes in human affairs, overrides natural laws when necessary to accomplish his purposes—and he became flesh by means of a Virgin Birth. When God came in human flesh in the person of Jesus, he did not abandon his deity, but rather added humanity to his divinity. He was both fully God and fully human (Philippians 2:6-8; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:8-9).
Jesus’ miraculous origin sets him apart from the rest of humanity. His conception was a divinely ordained exception to the ordinary rules of nature. The Virgin Birth illustrates the extent to which the Son of God was willing to go to become our Redeemer. It was a demonstration of God’s grace and love (John 3:16) in fulfilling his promise of salvation.
The Son of God became one of us for our salvation, sharing in the nature of humanity so he could die on our behalf. He came in the flesh so those who believe in him might be redeemed, reconciled and saved (1 Timothy 1:15). Only the Creator of humanity could pay the price for all of humanity’s sins.
As Paul explains, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). To those who receive Jesus Christ and believe in his name, God offers the precious gift of salvation. He offers us a personal relationship with him. We can become sons and daughters of God— “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).
Some believe that the Virgin Birth could have happened naturally, without a miracle, by a process called parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis is biological reproduction that involves development of an ovum without fertilization. Parthenogenesis occurs commonly among lower plants and invertebrate animals such as rotifers, aphids, ants and bees.
Parthenogenesis in mammals is not impossible, but does not occur naturally. It has been induced, for example, in rabbits, though all the offspring were female. It is not known in primates or humans. If a rationalization of the Gospel accounts is wanted, any number of such theories could be argued, but they can never be more than speculative.