You have heard it as many times as I have. I refer to the use of the word “miracle.” In the early 1970s Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers caught a deflected pass and ran it in for a touchdown. It was called the “Immaculate Reception” and the victory over the Oakland Raiders was known as a miracle win. Miracles are those things which happen that cannot happen, at least not by our human standards and use of reason. Franco Harris’s catch was not a miracle nor was the victory. Those things can and do happen. A cure for a disease is not a miracle, it can and does happen. The winner of a lottery is not the recipient of a miracle. Lotteries are awarded on a weekly basis. Miracles are those things which cannot happen but do. The Scriptures are full of miracles. A 180 pound man cannot walk on water but He did. Water cannot become wine without the use of fruit and fermenting, tell that to the folks in Cana. A hand full of bread and fish cannot feed over 5,000 men yet the satisfied stomachs of Galilee would disagree.
An angel appeared to some shepherds who were simply tending their flocks. Angels appear throughout the Old and New Testaments so no miracle there. Shepherds ordinarily tend their sheep in the field, no miracle there either. The angel tells the shepherds about a “sign” they will see by going to Bethlehem. There in a manger will be a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. So where is the miracle? While a manger is an odd place for a new born, it was the only place left because of the influx of citizens caused by the census. A man and a woman welcoming the increase of their family is a fairly common occurrence then as well as now.
So what was the sign the shepherds were going to see? What was special about all of this? Where is the miracle?
The miracle is the fact that the Savior had been born, He is Christ the Lord. The crux of this miracle is not in the birth of Jesus nor in the lowly setting but in His conception nine months earlier. It is not a miracle that a woman became pregnant, it is a miracle that a “virgin” became pregnant without knowing a man (the word “knowing” means sexual engagement). According to human reason the natural means by which a baby is conceived is when a man and a woman unite in the God given act of love and by His wisdom and will procreates another of them. No such thing took place in Nazareth with a teenage girl named Mary and she knew it. The angel that came to her brought a greeting that was confusing and perplexing to young Mary. She was asking herself what this all meant.
That is where the miracle takes place. Right there in Nazareth what cannot happen, happened. The angel spoke the words of grace to her. Grace that flowed from heaven to earth. The Lord God Almighty, who once dwelled in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, now resides in her womb. God takes residence on earth. As St. John says, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Before any of the Apostles ever saw Him, He was there. When the angel bespoke that He is Jesus, God who saves, this is the Gospel on earth. She became pregnant without knowing a man because He is the Son of the Most High. He sits on the throne of which there is no end. The miracle took place when the Word of grace entered Mary’s ear and conceived a child in her womb.
It is a miracle because this cannot happen yet it did. It happened “for nothing is impossible with God.” While Mary didn’t have it all worked out in her mind, she knew that God did. While she had not known a man, she knew the Word spoken by God through the angel and the power of the Gospel so “it is to me as you have said.” Rather than an “immaculate conception” which from Rome’s perspective refers to Mary’s mother, not Mary; we have a real miracle. A miracle of a conception bringing the Holy Divine to the unholy human. The Child, the Christ, is both God and man, human and divine.
The angel preached the Word and the Word became flesh to save all flesh from the consequences of sin and death. The dead who sleep in Christ will rise again (a miracle) with more than sugar plums dancing in their heads. They rise to everlasting life in paradise. The angels of the church preach today as they tend their flocks by the Call of God. A message given in time transcends time and comes to us today. The Word comes to the dead before God and raises them to life by faith in Jesus. The Word strengthens weak faith and comforts the battle weary soul. The Word splashes us with a robe as bright as the glory of the Lord that shown around the fields of Bethlehem. The Word brings the resurrected Body and Blood of Jesus through our mouths to our souls with grace and truth. This is a miracle. It cannot happen, but it does!
Merry Christmas to you all!
Rev. Dr. Brian Saunders, President
Iowa District East – LCMS