All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel” — which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22–23)
Have you ever stopped for just a moment to ponder the majesty of the word Immanuel? It is incredible to consider that when Isaiah, the holiest man in Israel, prophesied, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel,” he was literally predicting that in the future the One who spoke the limitless galaxies into existence would tabernacle in flesh among men. Indeed, that is precisely what the word Immanuel means — “God with us.”
As we continue our journey toward Christmas Day, let’s take just a moment to consider the context of perhaps the best-known of all Old Testament prophecies. In context, Isaiah foresees impending doom looming on the horizon. But he also foresees a coming Messiah who would ultimately deliver God’s people from their sins.
The near-future fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 8) confirmed to his contemporaries that he was indeed a true prophet of God. While the Holy Spirit may have revealed another layer of meaning as a far-future messianic prophecy, the foremost concern of Isaiah and his contemporaries was the protection of Judah against her enemies. Indeed, Judah was “shaken” as two powerful kingdoms sought her demise (see Isaiah 7:1–2). God, however, promised King Ahaz that the birth of Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz would be a sign that Judah would be spared. In the words of Isaiah, “Before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste” (Isaiah 7:16). “For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 8:4). It should be noted that while Isaiah’s wife (unlike Mary) was not a virgin when she gave birth to Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, she was nonetheless the fore-future fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Virgin (almah) was simply a term used to refer to the prophetess prior to her union with Isaiah — not that she would give birth to a child as a virgin.
It was not until after the birth of Jesus seven hundred years later that it became entirely clear that the near-future fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the birth of his son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a type, the antitype of which was Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:22–23). While Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a sign guaranteeing God’s temporal salvation of Judah, Jesus Christ — the true Immanuel — not only signified but embodied the ultimate and eternal salvation of God’s chosen ones from sin and death.
Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading, and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl. Advent gives us another option beyond false Christmas cheer or Scrooge. Advent says the Baby is coming, but He isn’t here yet, that Hope is on its way, but the yearning is still very real. Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we’re grieving, without giving up on the gorgeous and extravagant promise of Christmas, the Baby on His way.
Consider Advent a less flashy but still very beautiful way of being present in this season. Give up your false and failing attempts at merriment, and thank God for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights. Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it’s been lost. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
God fulfilled so many promises when Jesus came as a baby in Bethlehem. Dare to hope and trust that He will fulfill His promises to you as well.
How amazing it is that God so loved us that He put Himself in human flesh to be with us — Immanuel! Today, let’s be reminded that the Messiah came not only to rescue and redeem, but to be with us because we are that dearly loved.