In the incarnation of Jesus, there is so much to savor. And we should strive to savor it all.
Imagine two weeks ago, sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal saying, “Wow, there is so much food here! I’m just not going to eat anything.” You wouldn’t say that. Instead, you might take one bite at a time, enjoying everything on the table. This should be our approach to the story of the incarnation of Jesus. The truths in this story are best savored one bite at a time.
Let’s savor three truths that God has given us in Matthew 1:18-23, in reverse order.
Truth #1: Jesus' advent was planned by God.
22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”.
Perhaps you have heard this saying around this time of the year: “One unplanned pregnancy saved us all.” I realize the sincere, pro-life intentions behind a saying like this and I affirm those intentions. As Christians, we must affirm that life is never invalid or cancelable because it was in some sense “unplanned.”
Still, our response to this saying must be, “Unplanned from who’s perspective? Mary’s, Joseph’s?” That’s true. They certainly had not planned to be the earthly parents of the Messiah. But Mary’s pregnancy wasn’t unplanned in the way we use that term.
What about from God’s perspective? Let’s be clear. Everything about this pregnancy was planned. That’s the testimony of Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 1:22, referencing Isaiah, the prophet, Matthew says “All this (Mary's pregnancy and Jesus’ birth) took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (Isaiah 7:14-16).
The fact is that Mary’s pregnancy was planned because her pregnancy was always the plan! God’s plan was always to send his Son to save sinful rebels. God orchestrated all of time and history to bring about the advent of His son into the world to save sinners at just the right time (Galatians 4:4).
And God continues to orchestrate all of time and history to bring about the second advent of His Son, when he will come again to gather his church to be with him forever. You see, the scriptures bear witness that God is orchestrating all things, planning all things to terminate on His glory seen in His Son. All of time and history centers around Jesus. He is the plan.
Truth #2: God planned for Jesus to be conceived from the Spirit.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit."
This is where we must be careful again not to compare Mary being pregnant with Jesus before marriage to an "unplanned pregnancy" before marriage. We must resist urges to make Jesus more like us than the scriptures reveal him to be. The baby in Mary’s womb was not Mary and Joseph’s child out of wedlock. If fact, the text is clear that this wasn’t Joseph’s child whatsoever.
Matthew 1:19-20 says, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Afterall, what else would Joseph think than that Mary had been unfaithful to him?) “20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
So, how do we make sense of the incarnation of Jesus? Consider Luke’s account of the angel’s announcement to Mary:
‘“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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)
When God saw that the time had come to send his Son, he saw to it that he was conceived through the Holy Spirit. His advent begins with God the Spirit, not with flesh and blood. This means that Jesus is truly God. He did not begin to exist at his birth. God the Son, who existed in perfection for all eternity with God the Father, came down to be with us. God, the holy, righteous creator of all things, judge of all history, has come down to sinners.
And if that is all has happened, that the Holy God has come down to sinners, that would be the worst news ever. Advent is not good news for sinners if God comes only as fully God. We would perish in the presence of His holiness. But, praise God! He has come veiled in flesh.
Truth #3: God planned for Jesus to be born from a woman.
“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew makes it very clear that Jesus was born. He was not beamed down to earth. He did not just appear one day. He did not come as a spirit. He was born of a woman.
In that way, he is truly “conceived from the Holy Spirit, yet “conceived in Mary”. He is God conceived trough a womb of flesh. He became for us fullness of God in fullness of flesh. Everything it means to be man, Jesus put on; a human body, mind, emotions, feelings, will, and temptations. Therefore, Jesus can fully identify with us in every way.
I think it might be worth noting an often-overlooked way in which Jesus can identify with humanity. And we see it in Joseph’s relationship to Jesus. Jesus is not Joseph’s biological son. Jesus was not conceived by Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit. However, notice what than angel says to Joseph and how Joseph responds;
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25)
Do you see what Matthew is showing us? Joseph went on to take Mary as his wife and undertook the task of naming her son. Joseph adopted Jesus! Perhaps, in an effort see Jesus like us, we rush to use the image of “unplanned pregnancy” when the clearer cultural parallel in the Advent story is adoption. Jesus identifies with us, as one of us, even to the point that he can identify with those who have been adopted. What a Savior!
But why is all that significant? Paul says this in Galatians 4:4-5; “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
God sent his Son to be like mankind, born under all of God’s righteous requirements, so that he might keep those righteous requirements in our place; so that he might suffer the consequences of death for our sin, in our place; so that we might be adopted by God!
The Good News of Advent
Here is the good news of Advent in a nutshell: God planned that His Son be conceived of the Spirit and born of a woman so that he might save his people from their sins.
Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Since Jesus alone is both God and man, he alone brings peace between God and man.
Consider what that means for us this Advent; the work of reconciliation is finished. You and I don’t and can’t bring peace between us and God. It takes God in flesh to bring peace. And Christ has already accomplished that in his flesh. We are called to repent of our sins and believe in Him. Rest in Him. Rejoice in Him. Savor Him!