Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Here we have the first appearance of the word we’re familiar with at Christmas. “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us'”. We hear it as part of the X-mas story, and smile inside. Warm fuzzies remind us that God is comforter, and brings peace, and desires good things for us. We align ourselves with our 4 year olds and remember “God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man“. Only our boogie men no longer have teeth and claws. They now they have bills, pink slips, pipe bombs, criminal records, more success than us, and take our taxes.
But looking at the first instances of the word “Immanuel”, (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8) we find something other than encouragement to be comforted. King Ahaz is not a very good king at all. (2 Kings 16) Disregarding the God of Israel, and even making sacrifices of his own children at the altar of pagan gods…Ahaz was pimping out Israel to whatever he thought might help.
Then in Isaiah, the Lord speaks to Ahaz. He basically offers to help make things right again, and wants to reveal himself as God to Ahaz. He even tells Ahaz to ask for a sign…anything at all. Ahaz knows his entire existence has been built up against the God of Israel, and pretends he doesn’t want to “put God to the test”, refusing to ask for a sign. Then God responds that He will give a sign anyway, and the center of it will be “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” This sounds like a good thing, as God says Ahaz no longer needs to worry about the two kings from the north. But then comes 7:17 – “he will bring the king of Assyria”. Judah is conquered by the Assyrians and eventually from that, the Babylonians. They experience many years of pain, suffering, oppression, and want. God uses those many years to remind His people of what it means to be a child of God.
Fast forward to the next time we see “Immanuel” in scripture..Matthew 1:23. The hearers of this word would not have immediately responded with joy alone. Imagine the intense fear and reverence, deferring whatever may come into the hands of God. Celebrating God’s coming, but knowing that it may mean letting go of life as we know it…ESPECIALLY the comfortable bits.
May we be challenged this week, just as Mary was, to bear Jesus into our worlds. May we respond “I am the Lords’ servant”, and be willing to carry His presence into our daily lives, knowing full well that it may change things entirely. May His Love, His forgiveness and grace, His Holiness & Spirit give source to new life within us…life that swallows up what once was. May Immanuel come, and may He begin here and now…