Sermon by Rev. Lance Filio (Delivered by Rev. Reuel Dawal)
Let us all stand for the reading of God’s Word:
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!” (Isaiah 7:10-25)
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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 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 1:18-25)
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:34-37)
Let us pray:
O promised Christ: We are a world at war. Our peace depends on your coming. We are a sinful people. Our pardon depends on your coming. We are full of good intentions but weak at keeping promises; our only hope of doing God’s will is that you should come and help us do it. Lord Christ, Word made flesh, our world waits for your peace, for your pardon, and for your grace. Even so: come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
We begin again our discussion of Christmas with an apology or defense. There are two popular objections against the celebration of Christ’s birth I would like to briefly address.
As for the objections, the first comes from popular sub-Christian culture and the second from our reformed circle.
First, some say December 25 is a pagan holiday and Christians have no reason to celebrate it. Well, it is a myth. Historically, we know Christians did not celebrate Christmas because of the Roman festival of Saturnalia. December 25 came from the Christian liturgical calendar. It is a yearly commemoration of Christ’s incarnation and birth. It was derived in relation to the historical date of Christ’s death, March 25. Since the fourth century, early Christians recognize this date also as the day when Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. And since a full pregnancy is 9 months, the birth of Christ lands on December 25. So Christmas had a historical Christian roots. It is was never pagan.
Second, all these sounds Roman Catholic. As reformed Christians, we believe in the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) and properly worship only during the Lord’s Day. There is only one holy day for us that is Sunday, our Lord’s Day. I heartily agree. Christmas, together with other yearly liturgical events like Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Epiphany, are not explicitly commanded by Scripture so celebrating them cannot bind any Christian conscience. This principle cures us of all excesses we find in the secular commercialization of this holiday as well as the extravagant attention most churches put during this season. But the abuse of something shouldn’t be allowed to destroy its proper use (abusus non tolit usus) so in our classis we consider these liturgical events as not holy but helpful. We encourage its proper use in order to help Christians celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.
What is Christmas?
In Scripture, Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s incarnation and birth. The second person of the Trinity, the God-man who is eternal and infinite added to himself what is temporal and finite. He was incarnated; He became man equipped with both body and soul. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the womb of a virgin, his mother Mary. The season comes with the opportunity for us to preach and teach about this great and wonderful event. In doing so, we often we look at it from two historical narrative sources in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Our sermon has two points: 1) Conceived by the Holy Spirit; 2) Born of the Virgin Mary. We will explore the meaning of these terms and expose Scriptures related to them. Then we will relate each points with Jesus as the Holy One.
Conceived by the Holy Spirit
The first matter I think we need to clarify here is the term conception. Since it connotes impregnation, we can easily make some false assumptions that the Holy Spirit is the father of Jesus and Mary was impregnated by him. This is paganism so we have to be clear at this point.
Conceived by the Holy Spirit did not mean Jesus was fathered by the Holy Spirit deriving his divine nature from God the Holy Spirit. That is a heresy. Conceived by the Holy Spirit means Jesus’ incarnation was created by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means the assumption of Jesus’ human nature was an act of creation, specifically new creation. So conception means by the creative power of the Holy Spirit.
Scripturally speaking Luke used the verbal terms come upon and overshadow (Luke 1:35). These are greek words but very hebraic in expression. Where in Scripture can find such expressions as well?
Dr. Kline pointed out in his Kingdom Prologue lectures while commenting on Genesis 1:2, “…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”, the term hovering in hebrew denotes a kind of atmosphetic presence. This means creation in this case was by the power of the Holy Spirit as well and the imagery used was hovering.
Another important imagery reinforcing this from other parts of Scripture and we can read it is in The Song of Moses in Deut 32:10-12, “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him. The subject He is Israel and the term “howling waste” in hebrew used the same term in Genesis 1:2 to describe “without form and void“. This reinforces their parallelism. But what I want us to further correlate is the hovering imagery of the eagle. This means the Holy Spirit’s power and presence corresponds with an avian imagery.
We can read in the New Testament another avian imagery which corresponds to the Holy Spirit and it is found in the baptism of Christ. The dove hovering over Jesus at Jordan with the Father speaking helps use conclude that the dove is the Spirit hence picturing for us the economic Trinity. And of course, circling back to our topic, the avian imagery of the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary means again the Triune God is at work.
This means incarnation is the work of our Triune God. It is the adding of the human nature to God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit and by the appointment of God the Father. It is a unique supernatural work of new creation which cannot be repeated. It is a holy work for the Holy One as ascribed by Luke because it sets Jesus Christ apart from all his predecessors. He is the only begotten Son of God volunteering himself to become our mediator. As God himself created everything in creation, he also inagurated everything in new creation in Christ. He is the Holy one because He is the distinguished one, God’s only son.
Born of the Virgin Mary
The Holy one is also the sanctified one.
Question: is it possible to create Jesus’ flesh out of nothing? Of course, it is possible but for the purpose for redemption it will avail nothing.
Why? Because “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed”. This quote by Athanasius of Alexandria stresses for us the importance of the virgin birth. Jesus must be consubstantial, meaning same nature, with the one he saves. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law…(Galatians 4:4). The race of Adam who all fell to sin must be saved so their savior must come out from them.
The fact that Jesus is born from Mary despite of being a virgin points to it being miraculous. It means he was conceived without a human father and yet possess the same nature as with Mary. This means Jesus which may have an ordinary birth but conceived supernaturally.
There are some today denying the virgin birth. Some claims it is can never happen nor even necessary to believe to become a Christian. They cast doubt in the inerrancy of Scripture hence questioning its authority. This is not right. To refute it we need to go back again to Scripture. I will be using the arguments by Dr. Ligon Duncan. The crux of the matter is found in the term used for virgin.
In Isaiah 7:14, the verse, mentioned by Matthew as a fulfilled prophecy, uses the term “almah” which in Hebrew means young woman and does not necessarily virgin. However, if we examine the verses in the LXX the greek word translated as almah from this verse is “parthenos” which clearly translates in English as virgin. The same term is used by Matthew when he quoted Isaiah 7:14 in Greek.
We have good reasons to believe we have an accurate understanding that Isaiah intended to communicate to us virgin and not just a young woman. Luke cements this by specifically saying in Luke 1:34 from KJV to highlight: “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Know is euphemism for having sexual union. ESV and NIV straigthforwad translates this to And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?
Now since Mary is still a sinner just like you and me and this means her nature is also sinful. So the reason why the birth of Christ is holy because the Holy Spirit fully sanctified his flesh at his incarnation.
Zacharius Ursinus clarifies:
Obj. But Christ was born of a mother that was a sinner. Therefore he himself had sin.
Ans. The Holy Ghost knows best how to distinguish and separate sin from the nature of man; for sin is not from the nature of man, but was added to it from the devil.
So the Holy One is the distinguished one and the sanctified one. He is unique set apart for work of saving and sanctifying God’s people. It means Christ did not have original sin and cannot sin. He is Holy. Even though he has a body and soul, his human nature is fully sanctified by the Spirit.
Christmas is Christological. It centers on the person and work of Christ. It informs our minds and motivates our worship. For most the Christmas season are used for the common blessing of spending quality time with family members or even with church mates, we are called to sanctifying our minds by learning again and again these God-glorying truths. Meditation helps us focus on the important message of the season and motivates us to appreciate the great redemptive acts of God. The incarnation and birth of our Savior is a historical demostration of God’s love, mercy, and grace. It is points to God’s goodness and wisdom. It shows to us the glory of God!
Knowing all these prompts us to worship God for who he is and what he has done. Jesus Christ the Holy one of God is also the sanctified One by the Holy Spirit gives us hope for glory. Yes we may live in a midst of this dying and sinful world but by the sanctifying grace of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit we progress in holiness and will soon be glorified. We are never alone in this for our savior is our sanctifier. He alone will preserve us until the end. Truly, he is our Immanuel, God with us! Let us rejoice!
ZCRC(Imus), Christ is the God-man who is the Holy One. He is new creation and the fountainhead of our sanctification. Let us continue to praise our Triune God for all his saving work. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.