“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” —Isaiah 7:14
Christmas is almost here again, and people are pretty much doing one of three things: they’re looking forward to it, ignoring it, or dreading it. If you’re one of the ones looking forward to the holiday, you probably are one who has some very specific memories attached to Christmas from your own past. And it seems the day just can’t get here fast enough. (Just ask any 7 year old!)
It only takes a mild case of procrastination for one to ignore Christmas: “I’ll worry about Christmas when I get done with these other things.” And of course, you never get done with the other things in time. So this action eventually turns into dread.
For those dreading it, I suspect it may be financial. These are tough times. In my own family, we just spent some five months with my wife on sick leave and unable to work. It’s hard to do everything you want to do when all of the sudden the job ends or sickness intervenes. We all get caught off guard at times. And yet Christmas, and our own expectation of what we want to be able to do to celebrate and make it a special day, still rolls around every year, regardless of the finances available.
But some that may be dreading Christmas have a much deeper reason than just finances. You see, there’s been a story going around for a while now that Christmas is actually a celebration of JESUS. And for those who, for whatever reason, hate Christianity and anything to do with Jesus, the Christmas holiday becomes almost a horror. You have to hear that name. The songs of old talk about the ‘new born king’ who is laid ‘away in a manger’ bringing “Joy to the world’ are just too much.
Often, these are the people who push aside the “Christ” of Christmas and opt for some “Happy Holidays” instead. And in the past seventy years or so, our society has even developed a whole canon of ‘Happy Holidays’ music so that Christmas can be celebrated without all that Christ talk. So now we hear the music of White Christmas, of Rudolf saving Santa, of Frosty and his magic hat, of grandma in a hit & run accident with a reindeer, of chestnuts being cooked by a fire, of a kid who wants teeth as a gift, and of another kid who’s misbehaved so much that he expects nothing for Christmas. And there’s even a few that are so suggestive that I’m embarrassed to even write about them.
What on earth do these songs have to do with Christmas? Very Little. And Lots. They have very little to do with the gift of a savior given by God Himself; sending his one and only son to live and die and be raised again.
But they also have a lot to do with Christmas because the savior that was born came to a world that wasn’t Christian and didn’t really even realize how much they needed a savior. They didn’t know God. They didn’t even know that they didn’t know him… let alone care.
The gushy warm feelings of imagining a peaceful land without war is about as close to heaven as many people can ever get. In fact, without Jesus, it is as close as any of us could ever get.
The influence of Jesus Christ on the world around us is still pretty pervasive. Courts and marketplaces may have walked away from much of our earlier practices as a nation which tried to mandate Christian behavior, but people the world over still know Christmas as a day of peace and hope, whether they know Jesus or not.
The first Bible passage I quoted, from Isaiah 7:14, is in the midst of God delivering Judah’s King Ahaz from an attack by foreign armies. God tells the king he’s being delivered because God has decided to do so. And he allows the king the privilege of a special sign as proof that God will keep his promise. Ahaz tells God “No” he doesn’t want a sign and the Lord gives him a sign anyway. He describes a young woman who will give birth and have a miraculous son. And goes on to describe how the birth, and life, of that child will be a reminder of God’s care for his people.
In fact, whoever that little child was in Ahaz’s day, he didn’t grow very old before the enemies of Ahaz were no longer even nations! His name was Immanuel… His name literally meant God is with us! Every time Ahaz (or anyone else) said this child’s name, they were reminded how much God was with them and how he had delivered them from their enemies. What a reminder! What a gift! What a gracious and loving God!
And yet, like so often in Scripture, God had a double meaning in that sign of the child. Yes, it referred to someone that Ahaz would have been able to see in his day (if not, then God would have been a liar). BUT God also was looking ahead to another day when another young woman, this one an actual virgin, would conceive and have a baby who would also be called Emmanuel… the very one that would save us from our sins.
And that second child, Emmanuel (in Greek) or Immanuel (in Hebrew) was truly more than just a reminder that God was with us… He literally was GOD WITH US!
In the midst of our day in and day out stuff that happens, even when it seems so ungodly and even hostile or painful, God is still with us. When the finances are tight, when the neighbors cause trouble, when things aren’t going well at work, God is still with us.
And, like Matthew did with a verse in Isaiah written to a king about an invading army, God will take seemingly unimportant things from our pasts and our surroundings and open up spiritual realities to us… helping us to see that God really is here with us at all times and in all places if we’ll turn to him.
And so the world feels the ‘warmth’ of the season and celebrates as best as it can with ‘Happy Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’ and doesn’t realize that there’s more to the story… but as they see that story and peace exhibit itself in our lives, then they too will want what we have… and they won’t just have to imagine.
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” —Matthew 1:23