A King, a Funny Name, and the Hope of the World
You may have heard the song from the 90’s, One of Us, in which Joan Osborne asks the question: What if God was one of us? While Osborne may have been able to write a catchy little radio hit, she was obviously ignorant of the story of Christmas. Someone should tell her if she still does not know, that God did become one of us. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us. At Christmas, we celebrate the coming of our God into the world in the form of a baby. We don’t have to ask the question of what God would be like if he became one of us. We know. In Christ Jesus, we know.
The promise of Immanuel comes from the prophecies of Isaiah. In chapter seven, Isaiah tells us of the days of King Ahaz who is ruling over Judah. At this time, the Syrian empire was increasing throughout the middle east and seizing the territories of the many smaller nations around them. Ahaz and all of Judah get word that the northern kingdom, Israel, is now in league with Syria and planning an attack upon Jerusalem. This, of course, causes great fear and concern. Judah is small and can easily be overtaken by the armies of Israel and Syria combined.
But the Word of the Lord comes to Ahaz, by the prophet Isaiah. The Lord assures Ahaz that this will not come to pass. God will be with Ahaz. He will be on Judah’s side. God then gives Ahaz a sign. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” (Isa. 7:14). How will Ahaz know that God is with him? How will he know that God is on his side? A son will be born.
Chapter eight then begins with the Lord telling Isaiah to get a tablet and write a name on it – Maher-shalal-hash-baz. What a name! How would you like to have this name? God is about to fulfill his promise. Soon there after, Isaiah goes into the prophetess and she bears a son. And they name him, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, (Isa. 8:3). In the immediate context, it appears that this is the son that Ahaz was waiting for. The word virgin can also mean young woman. Isaiah, himself says that he and his children are signs of the Lord (Isa. 8:18). It seems that God has filled his promise. Ahaz was promised to see the birth of a son in order to know for certain that God was on his side, that God was with him. And Ahaz has seen it.
But Isaiah sees something deeper happening here. Isaiah knows that while his son may have fulfilled the promise in an immediate sense, there is still a greater sense in which this promise is yet to be fulfilled. In chapter nine, Isaiah goes on to describe the son that he is waiting for. “For unto us a child is born; to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isa 9:6).
Isaiah is waiting for a Savior. He is waiting for a son of man to crush the serpent (Gen 3:15). He is waiting for a son of Abraham to bring a blessing to the families of the earth (Gen 12:3). He is waiting for a son of David to sit on the throne and rule with justice and righteousness (2 Sam. 7:12-17). But why would he call this son “Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” Doesn’t he know that he is waiting for a human, not God.
No. Isaiah sees in the promise of Immanuel something more profound. He sees a connection between this coming son and the Lord God – a connection so close that the son is called God. He sees the true fulfillment of Immanuel. He sees the coming of Christ – who is both God and man. Jesus, Immanuel – God with us. At Christmas, we do not celebrate the birth of a great teacher, or a great prophet, or a mere man. No. Christmas is about God becoming man, stooping low, humbling himself to save his people. To redeem us. To be with us. To be one of us.