For Sunday, December 23, 2007
I often in my mind hear the words “The virgin will be with child… and will call his name Immanuel” in the voice of the Peanuts character Linus from his famous reading in “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” These are such wonderful Christmas words.
Yet the irony is the context in which they occur. The Prophet Isaiah is warning Judah’s King Ahaz that he ought not to try to solve his own problems through machinations with Israel and Syria. In fact, says Isaiah, so ready is God to help you that he’ll give you a sign wherever you like it, whether on heaven, earth, or under the earth. Ahaz’s response? “I don’t want to put God to the test.” In other words, “No, I’d really prefer to handle this on my own.”
Isaiah then says, “Well, you are going to get a sign anyway. A virgin with be with child.” In other words, God is with us, like it or not.
The sign to which Isaiah is referring was most likely fulfilled on two levels. First, there was the immediate fulfillment within Ahaz’s own house, in which a young woman conceived, gave birth, and named the child “Immanuel.” The point here was that before this child reached the age of maturity, say 12 years old, Ahaz’s kingdom would come to an abrupt end.
Yet there was a deeper level of fulfillment that would come with Jesus being born in Bethlehem. On this level, the meaning of “Immanuel”, “God with us”, takes center stage, for it would be fulfilled literally.
God with us, like it or not. Will we respond in repentance and faith, or only in continued obstinance? If the latter, there is nothing more that even God’s profound love can do to reach us. If the former, then everything will be transformed, because God himself dwells in our hearts.