What is Christmas to you? This holiday, which originated as an effort by church leaders to redirect dissolute pagan midwinter celebrations toward Christ and a holy time of worship, has today widely denigrated back to a secular holiday characterized less by corporate worship and more by commercialism, gift-giving and private family time. But what, actually, are we remembering or acknowledging today; what is it that we’re celebrating?
Old Testament Prophecy:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).” (ISAIAH 7:14 AMP)
New Testament Fulfillment:
“She will give birth to a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus (The LORD is salvation), for He will save His people from their sins.” All this happened in order to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet [Isaiah]: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL ”–which, when translated, means, “GOD WITH US.”” (MATTHEW 1:21-23 AMP)
The most important aspect of any discussion of Christmas is a recognition of the fact that the Jesus Christ of historical record was (and still is) Immanuel, a literal interpretation of which means “God with us.”
This is unprecedented! He is not “a god,” as some ancient rulers designated themselves to validate their authority over their people; He is literally the Author and Source of all, living in human form among us as one of us. This is extraordinary and supernatural in nature, and difficult to accept, but nonetheless, literally and completely true.
Those of us who grew up hearing these verses tend not to trip up on the word “virgin,” but it is extremely significant that this is what Mary was; that Jesus was not conceived through sexual intimacy of any kind. Luke records God letting Mary know what’s about to happen to her:
“One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David. The angel greeted Mary and said, ‘You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. Then the angel told Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.’ Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this happen? I am not even married!’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. Nothing is impossible for God!’ Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.’ And the angel left her.” (Luke 1:26-38 CEV)
Some claim the original word translated into our word “virgin” to merely mean “young woman,” but even a common sense consideration of that meaning evidences its inappropriateness within the context–how would a young woman conceiving and bearing a child be any kind of special sign, as the prophecy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah indicates? Isn’t it young women (not young men or old women or men) who typically conceive and bear children? How would that have in any way been unusual or extraordinary? It would not have been–but a woman conceiving and giving birth without having had intimate relations with anyone would have been. A virgin giving birth is an extraordinary sign from God.
Furthermore, we tend to interpret things through the lens of our own culture. These days it is indeed not only possible, but also increasingly common, for unmarried young women to conceive and give birth to children; clearly it’s physically possible, and the lack of sufficient moral constraints renders it a frequent occurrence today. But within the context of ancient Israel the prohibition against and stigma of childbirth outside of marriage dictated that an “unmarried young woman of marriageable age” and a “virgin” were synonymous–they literally indicated the same thing because unmarried young women were virgins!
But why is it so important that Mary was a virgin–that Jesus was conceived through the direct intervention of God in her physiology, not through sexual relations of any kind?
The answer to this is a little more complex, but once you get it, it’s absolutely amazing! It is important to understand that Jesus’ conception was a direct supernatural intervention of God because had it not been He would not have been Immanuel–God with us. And had He not been God, none of the rest of the story would have occurred or even mattered, because He would have been a mere human born infected with a nature as we are and incapable of paying the penalty for anyone’s sin by His death. Yet even though He was born a baby through Mary, the human young woman God chose for this task, He was also God with us–Immanuel–of Isaiah’s prophecy! And a sign–one of the many ways we can know Jesus Christ was who God attested He was through all of the multiple signs and prophecies and miracles that followed–was through this extraordinary and miraculous conception.
So what is Christmas to you? What is it that we are celebrating? Is it snowmen and Santa and gifts and family and friends and cozy hearth fires? No. At Christmas we are celebrating that, “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.” (John 3:16 CEV) We are celebrating God coming to us: Immanuel–God with us!
Thank You for remembering us, and coming to us! Amen.