This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent and includes the traditional gospel passage from Matthew in which we encounter the “annunciation” of Jesus’ birth to Joseph. The virginal conception of Jesus can not stand as a proof of the Christian claim that Jesus is the “Son of God.” It is not a matter of “proof” but trust. Nor does Matthew seem to intend it as such. Matthew bases no theological claims upon the virgin birth and the birth is never again a reference in his gospel. Yet the claim of supernatural conception is not incidental. It is one of the ways Matthew has of confessing that Jesus is the Son of God. Matthew has others, e.g. the Apostle Peter confesses the fundamental Christian faith that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the living God” (16:16) because it was revealed to him by God in heaven. In the whole of Scripture, for Matthew, the story of Jesus is speaking about God – that God is with us.
Matthew begins and ends his narrative with the fragile human life of Jesus surrounded by God in both the birth story and the Passion account – each of which points to God as the hidden actor of the deeper story. While the Passion narrative is essential, the birth story as a miracle is not. As provocative as that sounds, the virginal conception is not the proof or even the meaning of the Christian claim that Jesus is the “Son of God.”
Image credit: Dream of St Joseph, c. 1625–1630, by Gerard Seghers | Kunsthistorisches Museum | Public Domain