In Israel’s antiquity Isaiah 7:14 prophesied that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son and call His name Immanuel [literally God-with-us]. Then, several hundred years later, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary of Nazareth to tell her that she would bear a child who would be called the Son of the Most High, whose kingdom would never end (Luke 1:31-33), and Mary asked how that could be, “since I am a virgin?”
That prophesy and its fulfillment tell us the means—but without much explanation of the how.
Do you believe in this virgin birth? I didn’t for the longest time. It just isn’t the way conception and birth happen. But then, if I had read the Isaiah verse with intelligent consideration, I’d have had to admit that the way anything normally happens couldn’t be a sign. If the text said, “The Lord will give you a sign: A woman will have sexual relations with a man and conceive and bear a son,” I’d have thought, “What! How could that be a sign? That kind of birth happens everyday all over the earth!”
So…a special virgin birth was prophesied in antiquity—as a sign, and in due course even the virgin involved questioned how this could be. Then the angel answered—but barely, vaguely: “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.”
Do any of us imagine we can understand this—or even get the faintest idea how immense and overwhelming a personal “overshadowing” by the Master and Creator of our fearsome Universe might be? Whatever it was, it was powerful and spiritual, for the verse specifies the “Holy Spirit” as the agent at work. The explanation Gabriel gave Mary probably went as far as any human could comprehend, and perhaps as even any angel could tell, for this is the kind of thing Peter said “even angels long to look into” (1 Peter 1:12 NIV).
Let us bask in the wonder of the incomprehensible, of God’s thoughts and workings, so far beyond our capabilities, and realize, at the same time, how any miracle prophesied and fulfilled is by definition inexplicable. As Charles Wesley wrote about a later part of the Incarnated One’s earthly mission, “’Tis mystery all!” Let us revel in the mystery of Christmas!