Friday, December 31, 2010

The Perpetual Virginity of the Church

Matthew says that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of Matthew’s prophecy of the virgin giving birth to a son whose name will be Immanuel. In the context of Isaiah, the birth of Immanuel is given as a sign to King Ahaz that the military plots against Judah will not stand. If Ahaz fears that the two kings are going to conquer Jerusalem and depose him, he must be assured by God’s word that the city will continue to stand in stability because a son will be born to a young woman in safety. But when Matthew quotes this passage at the birth of Jesus, only verses later we learn that there is a king plotting against this son. Herod wants to track this Child King down and destroy Him, and before it’s all over, a great slaughter of sons has occurred in Bethlehem. Bethlehem has become an Egypt and Herod is Pharaoh killing the male children perceived as a threat to his kingdom. And ironically, Joseph is hiding with his wife and newborn son in Egypt.

While God’s word to Ahaz was ‘stand still, be quiet, and do nothing,’ God’s word to Joseph is to get his family out of Judah and to run. So then, how is the virgin birth comforting? How is the birth of Immanuel a sign of safety if the holy family is immediately on the run? But let me connect these questions to baptism as well. If the Church is the virgin bride of Christ, the pure and chaste bride betrothed to Jesus, her husband, then there is some sense in which every conversion, every baptism is a virgin birth. Of course none are quite so spectacular as God born in human flesh, but something very similar is always happening. When a man, woman, or child is born again into the family of Jesus, it is the pure and undefiled virgin Church giving birth by the power of the Holy Spirit, and what is born is not born of blood or flesh or the will of man but the new life that is conceived here in the womb of the Church is of the Holy Spirit. No conversion makes human sense. No rebirth into the life of the Trinity is humanly possible. In this sense, as Protestants, we would deny the perpetual virginity of Mary, but we might be willing to speak of the perpetual virginity of the Church or at least the temporary, perpetual virginity of the Church: the chastity and purity of the Church as she awaits the consummation, the final Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when we finally are fully and completely united to the Lord Jesus Christ. But in the mean time, every new birth in the Church is the sign of Immanuel, the sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power to make God with Us, to be God with Us.

But this means that every baptism is the sign of Ahaz. Every baptism is the sign of Immanuel. Every baptism echoes the birth of God in the manger. Every baptism is a miniature Christmas. But how are we to be comforted with this sign in the face of threats? How are we to be comforted with this sign when the first virgin birth was followed by a slaughter of babies and a family on the run? Let me only suggest one possible answer: We might notice that after Joseph’s family is scattered, the disciples are scatted when Jesus is arrested in the garden and later crucified, then later, after Stephen’s stoning, the disciples are scattered again. But each time, the scattered ones have grown in numbers and responsibility. A remnant is always preserved, a seed is always saved. Whenever the word is scattered it brings forth a harvest. Our comfort and trust is always in the word of God, our safety is in His provision, but it is His wisdom to establish His kingdom through weakness and death. For unless a seed goes into the ground and dies, it will bear no fruit, and here is the seed of the Spirit, the miraculous conception of the life of God in human flesh.

So the charge for you, Jayson and Hannah, is to place your hope and trust in the Word of God, the Word of God made flesh, the Word of God in a manger in Bethlehem. The Word of God is the seed of the Spirit sown in our hearts for the life of the world. Teach your son to love this Word, teach your son to eat this Word, to be comforted by this Word, but ultimately teach him to die like this Word. Teach him to become seed that goes down into the ground and dies so that by the power of the Spirit his life might be scattered abroad and bring forth a great harvest of 30, 60, and 100 fold.

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