“The LORD … will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
We often hear this passage about a virgin in readings and songs at Christmastime. It had meaning for Isaiah’s audience many years before the first Christmas. And its ultimate fulfillment came when Jesus was born (see Matthew 1:22-23).
But what did it mean in the days of wheeling, dealing King Ahaz?
The king had made power deals with other nations and had worn out God’s patience with his false piety. But still some of God’s people remained faithful. Isaiah said there would be a young woman who would bravely name her son Immanuel (“God with us”). The sign in Isaiah’s day was not a virgin birth but a young mother’s faith in the midst of war and rumors of war. Her faith would shame the king. He trusted in deals, but she trusted in God.
Many years later, when Jesus, the Son of God, came to live among us, Matthew explained, “All this took place to fulfill” the words of Isaiah (Matthew 1:22; see also John 1:9-14). “Immanuel” is a cry of faith come true. God is bodily with us in Jesus.
This presence changes but never stops, for when Jesus leaves the earth, he assures us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28.20; see Acts 1-2). “Immanuel” (“God with us”) becomes a promise and a reality in hard times, at Christmas, and every other day as well.
Lord, give me faith, that I may trust in your presence even in hard times. Holy Spirit, help me to rejoice that Immanu-el has come. Amen.
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