What’s unusual about Christmas?

The biblical account of Christmas is filled with unusual features—angels appearing to shepherds, a beckoning star, a baby lain in a manger. But perhaps the most unusual of all is that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived.

That, obviously, is impossible. And that, of course, is the point. Jesus’ birth was a miracle. God was doing something unique here. The virgin birth (better, “virginal conception”) of Jesus has become something of a litmus test within Christian circles—a way of identifying whether someone really accepts the Bible. Those who deny the virgin birth usually deny the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture.

I hope that’s not you. But maybe you think the virgin birth is irrelevant at best and an embarrassment at worst. I’ll admit, the issue wouldn’t matter as much if this teaching were restricted to one obscure passage. In that case, Christians might just be able to plead ignorance and claim the Bible doesn’t make a big deal over it. But actually, it is very emphatic and appears several times quite clearly (Is 7:14, Mt 1:18-25, Lk 1:26-38). All of which strongly suggests that God has something important for us in this unusual and puzzling Christian doctrine.

Here’s what we know for sure: God did this as a “sign”—an emphatic signal that this was a decisive act of God. It was a confirmation that God was drawing near, His grace was at work in this, and you can trust what you are seeing. That’s how signs function in the Bible—as confirmation that this really is happening. God’s promises are often greater than man’s power to receive, so God willingly gives signs.

At minimum, the virgin birth is an indication that God was at work. But I think we can go one step further and say it is also a symbol for how God works. It carries within itself a wonderful picture of God’s saving grace.

The virgin birth was initiated by God’s goodness, performed by God’s power, and marked with God’s holiness.  In other words, Jesus was born from above, just like all other members of His new family must be. The man Jesus was brought to life by a sovereign act of the Spirit of God. One becomes a Christian in the same way the Word became flesh—namely, not by any human activity, but completely through God’s miracle-working grace.