Advent with Barth: Conceived by the Holy Spirit (A Brief Reflection on the Conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit)

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2018

By Dr. Jim Truesdell

The miracle of Christmas includes a “yes” and a “no”.  Just as the empty tomb is the sign of the resurrection, the womb is the sign of the mystery of the Son of God fully human – incarnate. The “no” according to Barth’s reflection on the mystery is contained in the phrase “born of the virgin Mary.” Mary’s virgin birth indicates, as Barth says, that “human nature possesses no capacity for becoming the human nature of Jesus Christ”. The ordinary stuff of human life in its brokenness cannot manufacture the extraordinary stuff of divine life in its fullness.

The miracle of Christmas has a resounding “yes” contained in the phrase “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” The loving freedom of God determines to be present with man but also determines that man be present with God. This is totally God’s doing. The event of God with us in the Christ child is impossibility overwhelmed by eternal possibility. No amount of social engineering, self-improvement, improved knowledge or ingenuity; no amount of earthly power wielded could make such a mystery possible.

At a time and in a culture where we have the luxury of pursuing self-fulfillment, self-improvement and self-actualization, it seems strange that we are helpless to manufacture the mystery. It’s God’s initiative and loving determination alone. Jesus is conceived by the

Holy Spirit and no other. We are conceived into new life in Christ by the Holy Spirit and no other.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is really the presence of God being born in us. In a sense every believer is an immaculate conception. This life of faith in Jesus and our love and obedience are only possible because of God’s imitative and not our own. It’s beautiful. Jesus takes on flesh to be near us but also takes on flesh that we might be near him. The Holy Spirit is not just present in our joys and sorrows but because he desires that we also be with him the Spirit draws us beyond our present joys and sorrows.

The more followers of Jesus ponder this mystery and the sign that points to the mystery the more overwhelmed we become by the impossibility of it all. God with us! Us with God! We do not deserve or earn such a tender kindness. It is a gift that plunges us into a mystery. It’s life changing to start to dwell deeply on God’s tenderness toward us. When we see ourselves as objects of this love life is different. It’s a new life.

Another miracle happens when by the power of the Holy Spirit we see others as objects of divine love. At first we imagine this love for those like us and our close family and friends. But the more we ponder the mystery, the more its radical nature moves us to imagine this love for those different from us. Not only that we begin to imagine the Holy Spirit conceiving something new and life giving in the lives of our worst enemies and the people we consider most repulsive. It makes sense. While we were enemies of God, he drew close to us and drew us to himself. As Barth described the union we enjoy, “Though the Spirit it become really possible for the creature, for man, to be there and to be free for God.” – free to love the loveless as God does.

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