Of all the kings of England since William the Conqueror, possibly Henry VIII is the most famous. [born 28 June 1491, reigned 22 April 1509 - 28 Jan 1547.]
As every schoolchild knows he had six wives. Many people think that it was because he wanted to divorce his wives that he started the Church of England. History isn't as simple as that. Even if he had had only one wife and had sired ten children, we would probably still have become a Protestant country. Medical historians have evidence that he suffered from a disease that caused infertility problems. But being an absolute monarch, no-one was going to tell him that he was the problem, not his wives.
He wanted to ensure that he produced a healthy son who would outlive him to continue the Tudor dynasty. Because he couldn't, the course of English history was changed.
First Samuel 1:20 tells the story of the birth of a son who changed the course of history of his nation.
Luke 2:6 tells the story of a son who has influenced the history of the world, and who has yet to change the world even more in the future, 2000 years after he was killed.
The birth of a healthy first born child is usually greeted with joy by loving parents. In the story in 1 Samuel, Hannah had pleaded with God for a son, not just a child. What made her home life so difficult was the taunting of her husband's other wife and children. I don't suppose she prayed just once. She came to the point where she was willing to give up her only son, her firstborn son, if only she could escape the humiliation of being barren. Later when Samuel was working in the temple, it was Samuel's birth which brought judgement on Eli and his sons. Eli's sons were dishonouring God by their conduct as priests and Eli did nothing to stop them.
Jesus was a first born son, and his birth brought judgement on the whole world. Many first born sons have been born in human history, but no other child has been born to a virgin. Not one mother has ever been told by an angelic messenger that her son was to be the Saviour of the world.
When it was known some years ago that the Princess of Wales was pregnant for the first time, there was a national guessing game as to the name the parents would choose for the second in line to the throne. Would it be Charles, George or Philip? We think the naming of a child is important. It was so important in the case of Jesus, that God Himself named the child, as we read in Luke 1:31. Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua) means, "the Lord saves." The virgin birth was unique. Even in Jesus' lifetime, people accused him of being born in fornication.
And for 2000 years people have disbelieved it. Not just pagans but some Christians. They point out that in the famous prophecy of Isaiah [7:14] - "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel." The word translated 'virgin' means young woman. That is in the King James Version, or as it reads in the Concordant Literal Version, "Therefore, Yahweh Himself shall give a sign to you: 'Behold, the damsel shall be pregnant and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel".
It's about time Christians believed and taught these Scriptural truths. Possibly Protestants are more guilty than Catholics in the matter of the virgin Mary. So anxious are we not to raise her to the status of a goddess equal with Christ, that we are too cautious in proclaiming her as our Saviour's human mother. We jump too quickly to Jesus' statement that whoever does God's will is better than the mother who weaned Him. We should remember also that God Himself had chosen her from all the women then living to bear the Saviour of the world.
Let us look at her song of praise as recorded in Luke 1:46. "My soul is magnifying the Lord." Not, "At last He has realized that I am good enough to bear Immanuel. What kept him?" No, she gave God all the honour. From now on, all generations should call her blessed.
Even her cousin Elizabeth told her, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord may be coming to me?"
Why did Elizabeth say that? Luke tells us - she was filled with holy spirit.
How can we, then, claim to be believers if we cannot share in Mary's joy and happiness? Like her, we should humbly give God the glory and praise.
Could it be that the reason many people disbelieve the virgin birth is because to believe would mean accepting that Jesus really is Immanuel - the one prophesized to redeem the world. That would mean changing our life style to that of Christ's. That is why Christmas is commercialized - without the message that Christ has come to the world in human form, there is nothing left for a disbelieving world to celebrate.
The virgin birth is important. He had no human father, hence he had a sinless life. His sacrificial death reveals His celestial Sonship. He was born not of bloods nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:10-13 records that truth for all believers.
The first chapter of Matthew's gospel anticipates this disbelief. In the list of "x begat y, y begat z etc.", there are the names of five women. Their names are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah's wife Bathsheba, and Mary.
Of all the wives and mothers of the fathers from Abraham to Joseph, Mary's husband, why mention these five women? What do they have in common?
Tamar was accused of being a prostitute and becoming pregnant by her father in law. But it was Judah who had demanded she sleep with him.
Rahab was a prostitute, but the book of James asks the rhetorical question , "Was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?"
Ruth was a foreigner, a despised Gentile.
Bathsheba conceived Solomon during an adulterous affair with king David.
And Mary was, to purist eyes, a fornicator who lied about her pregnancy.
All were outcasts of a so-called decent society. It is as if Matthew is saying, "Even if it is true what you think about Mary, God can use anyone. Whatever they may have done in the past, when a person can say with Ruth, "your God is my God." The past is forgotten. They can then say with Mary, "My soul is glad because of God my Saviour."
Samuel was set apart for God in the womb.
Jesus was set apart for God at his conception.
Paul said he was set apart for the gospel of God. Humanly, Jesus was a descendant of David, and through the spirit of holiness he was declared to be the Son of God. Incidentally, Scripture always calls God's children His sons. Is that because the Bible is sexist, as critics have accused? Or is it because the culture of ancient times treated women little better than cattle? The truth is that it doesn't matter a jot what human beings think. What does matter is what God meant us to understand from His word.
So why doesn't God call His children His sons and daughters? Perhaps its because He wants us to understand a simple message: no matter whether we are male of female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, we are all one in Christ Jesus and will all receive the blessings of the first born son. God couldn't have made it clearer that although humans may have favourites, He is going to treat all believers the same.
In ancient Israel the eldest son - not the eldest daughter - received double the inheritance. We are, all of us, in the privileged position of being a son of the living God, regardless of whether we are male or female.
So we are not the sons of a human, fallible king, whether he be the Bible hero David or Henry of England. We are the sons of the King of the Universe. Let us, whatever our past or ancestry, praise God that the Mighty One has done great things for us and let us proclaim that His name is holy.