An Ancient Promise – Immanuel

nativity 2

Imagine 2700 years ago.  An ordinary man, waits, listening for when the Lord will next speak to him.  He is chosen by God to share His message with the living generation, and with all generations to come.  And this time God speaks to him of something that will happen, not during his lifetime, but centuries later.  His heart beats faster.  He feels that familiar heaviness as the Spirit of God rests on him and he writes down the words spoken to him.  His name is Isaiah.  He pauses in wonder over what has been revealed to him.

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 (which means God with us).  Isaiah 7:14

Seven hundred years later, the angels wait in anticipation of the fulfilment of God’s ancient promise, ready to announce the news to a chosen few.  Only a few citizens of Israel are truly aware of what is about to take place.  Yet all around them, their countrymen have no idea of what is about to happen.  People throughout the land are travelling to their home towns, long wearisome journeys on foot or donkey along dusty roads, hoping for a place to stay.  A census has been called.  All must return to the place of their birth to register.

A young couple are among those seeking a place to stay.  Only places are few.  All the inns are full.  People are disheartened and irritable as they are turned away…again.  A young woman rides on a donkey.  Her belly is heavy.  The child she carries is due to arrive any time.  She is tired and uncomfortable.  Her husband inquires yet again for a place to stay.  Only this time, the inn keeper pauses, about to turn them away.  He notices Mary and can see the weariness in her face.  Hesitantly he offers them shelter in his barn.  It’s not much, but it’s all he has to offer.  All the rooms are full.  Joseph looks at Mary, who nods.  He agrees and follows the inn keeper to the barn.  Joseph makes a resting place for Mary out of straw.  She sighs and lies back to rest.

Joseph reflects on the events of a few months earlier.  He’d been about to break his engagement with Mary.  She was pregnant.  But not to him.  He didn’t want her to suffer public disgrace and had it in mind to divorce her quietly.  At the time engagement was considered as sacred as marriage.  He remembered how God had spoken to him in a dream.  It wasn’t like his usual dreams.  This was so clear.  And he actually felt the presence of God.  The Lord had said,”Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21).  After he woke, he was at peace and resolved to marry Mary.  It was as Isaiah had written so many years ago.

That night, Mary’s labour began.  By early morning she held a baby boy in her arms.  This was the child of whom Isaiah had written:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).

This Christmas, 2000 years later, we once again pause to reflect on the fulfilment of God’s ancient promise: a Son who would give us the gift of forgiveness for our sin and restore our relationship with God.  It’s a promise that was made for each and every one of us.  I am always awestruck when I read these passages in Isaiah.  God spoke his promise to us many years before its fulfilment in the writings of prophets like Isaiah and Micah.  He spoke his promise again to Mary and Joseph, confirming to them that their extraordinary circumstances were part of his greater plan for all people.  He speaks it today through the pages of the gospels that record the birth of baby Jesus and the life, death and resurrection of the man Jesus.  And he speaks it into the hearts of all who respond to his amazing promise and receive the gift of Jesus, son of God, friend and Saviour.  I am thankful for the peace of God and for His presence in my own life, as real to me today as it was to Isaiah and Mary and Joseph.    God bless you this Christmas.

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