The Virgin Birth
As Christmas draws nearer, we move from St John the Baptist’s preparing for the coming of Christ to the actual announcement of His birth. Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s account of JESUS’ birth (1:18-24), His virginal conception and birth through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Matthew actually highlights this virginal conception of JESUS. It is the fulfilment of the prophecy from Isaiah which we hear in today’s First Reading: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (7:14). This prophecy is truly fulfilled in the virginal conception and birth of JESUS Christ, Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Our Lady, and Who is literally “God with us.”
But why is JESUS born of a virgin? Why couldn’t He have been born in the natural way by the coming together of a man and a woman? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) can help us here. The virginal conception of JESUS shows us that His birth was “a divine work that surpasses all human understanding” (CCC 497). In other words it is a miracle which we cannot fully understand, that God Who created everything out of nothing could become man through the virginal conception by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Catechism also highlights that it is the fulfilment of prophecy. The Church teaches very clearly that the virginal conception was the fulfilment of “the divine promise given through Isaiah” already mentioned above. People in our day are tempted to think the virgin birth is just a myth or a legend because virgins don’t have babies. But the Catechism teaches very clearly that the virginal conception of JESUS was neither a myth or a legend (CCC 498). It is, in fact, a miracle.
Sometimes people say that the early Christians were so primitive and gullible they would believe anything back then. But this is not true. Both the ancient Jews and ancient pagans rejected the virgin birth completely and mocked it because ancient people knew, just as we do today, that virgins don’t have babies! It was a supernatural and miraculous act of God. The virgin birth was not man’s idea – it was God’s.
Finally, why did God do it this way? The CCC explains it is one of the ways God reveals to us the mystery of the Incarnation (God becoming man). It is the way God reveals that JESUS Christ is not merely human or merely divine, but fully human and fully divine. He is God and man at the same time, and the true Son of the Father by nature. All who are baptised are children of God by adoption, whereas JESUS is God’s Son by nature, because He shares the divine nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. So His divinity He received from His Father, and His sinless humanity from His mother, the Immaculate Virgin Mary.
So the divine and the human have come together in Christ, the God man, so that all humanity might be redeemed through Him and share in the divine life. This is the true joy of Christmas – God isn’t just with us in spirit, He is ‘Emmanuel’, God with us in the flesh.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC