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Traditional Chinese | Matthew 1:18–20; Luke 1


This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

– Matthew 1:18


Matthew’s story of Jesus’s birth begins on a discordant note: Mary, an engaged virgin, is pregnant. In traditional Chinese society, it was shameful for a woman to carry a child not conceived with her husband. But in Mary’s case, the scandal was worse. In first-century Palestine, a woman found to be pregnant before marriage could be stoned to death. Joseph vows to break off the engagement. How frightening that prospect must have been for Mary!

Fear and confusion are also what Mary feels when, in Luke’s Gospel, an angel informs her that she, though unmarried, will bear a son (Luke 1:29–30). “How will this be since I am a virgin?” Mary wonders (Luke 1:34). The angel explains: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). What seems to be a scandalous birth is really cause for great joy. Fittingly, His name will be Jesus (“God saves” – Matthew 1:21). Mary’s Spirit–conceived child will be the Saviour of the world.

The Holy Spirit will also be at work in another surprise child. Before we meet Mary, Luke introduces us to Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, the barren wife of the elderly priest Zechariah. An angel appears to Zechariah bearing the amazing news that Elizabeth, in her old age, will bear a son. Even before he is born, that son, to be named

John, “will be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:15). Later, as Elizabeth and Mary share their marvellous pregnancy stories with each other, Mary comes to accept, understand, and praise God for his astounding intervention in her life: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:47–48). She testifies to the truth of the angel’s assurance that nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

And the work of this same Holy Spirit redirects the life of Joseph. In a dream, an angel appears, urging Joseph to cancel his plan to abandon Mary and informing him that God, the Holy Spirit, is present and at work in her child: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

Woven through the scenes of the familiar stories of Jesus’s birth as told by Matthew and Luke we find the creative, life–changing Holy Spirit. That same Spirit was at work long before Mary in God’s creation of the world (Genesis 1:2, 2:7). He was present

in the formation of Adam from dust (Genesis 2:7) and is the source of human life (Genesis 6:3; Job 27:3, 33:4; Psalm 33:6). Thus, it is hardly surprising that God the Holy Spirit can create the life of the Son in the womb of the virgin, Mary. The miraculous conception of Jesus testifies to the life–giving power of the Holy Spirit.

What does the working of the Holy Spirit through the lives of our Gospel Christmas characters mean for Chinese society today? The Holy Spirit can work in many ways through our daily life if we ally with Him. Nowadays, Chinese people face many difficulties, including persecution. In Hong Kong, Christians and pastors are emigrating to other countries because of the possible pressures or constraints that churches will experience. The story of Jesus’s birth, especially the role played by the Holy Spirit, reminds us that this same Spirit guides, instructs, enlivens, and sustains

people today in troubled situations and in unexpected ways. The Spirit enables us to face confusion, persecution, and loss. As Mary wondrously learned, when God acts through the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible.

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Dr Xiaxia Xue is a Langham Scholar and Langham– published author who currently serves as Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at China Graduate School of Theology (CGST) in Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong.

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