Summary: Explanation of the names given to the child, "Jesus" and "Immanuel", and how it impacts us today.
We are in the third Sunday of Advent, Advent being the season before the birth of Jesus where we prepare ourselves for His arrival into our world. As I shared last week Advent is a season of preparation, it is an anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Unfortunately this season before Christmas has become a premature celebration in our culture. We spend so much time shopping, baking, decorating, going to performances, etc. that by the time Christmas Day is over we are completely burned out and are ready to move on to the New Year. The birth day of Jesus becomes anticlimactic. I saw a commercial on television the other day reminding us of the “25 days of Christmas,” because 12 days aren’t enough for shopping. Of course their 25 days begin on December 1st and end on, you guessed it, December 25th, Christmas Day. Traditionally the 12 days of Christmas, as the song goes, is meant to begin on Christmas Eve day and run until January 4th. It is meant to be a celebration of Jesus’ coming rather than a shopping extravaganza. And so during Advent we focus not so much on celebrating the birth of Christ, but on the expectation of his arrival. We are like the Jewish people before Christ who were waiting and longing for a Messiah, who would save them and deliver them.
During Advent we tend to focus on passages of the Bible from the prophets who predicted the coming of a Messiah who would deliver God’s people. So far this Advent we have focused on the prophet Isaiah, specifically Is. chapter 11 and 35. Today on the third Sunday of Advent we move one step closer to the arrival of the Son of God as we look at Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah chapter 7 and also at the birth narrative in the gospel of Matthew, focusing on Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy and the angel’s visitation.
In Isaiah 7, which predates the other two Isaiah passages we have had so far, Isaiah is writing over 700 years before Jesus is even a glint in Mary’s eye, at a time when his country, the nation of Judah, is being attacked by two other nations, Syria and their brothers and sister of Israel (Ephraim), because Judah would not join in their coalition against the powerful nation of Assyria, in fact they joined Assyria instead. So now they were hoping to conquer Judah to overthrow the king and put someone else on the throne who is more favorable to their war efforts against Assyria. Through Isaiah, God makes a promise to Judah to deliver them from their enemies, and he even offers to give the king of Judah a sign, any sign, no matter how big, to prove it. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous of King Ahaz, how many times have I wanted a sign from God but never got it, and here is God giving him the equivalent of a blank check signed by God. King Ahaz could have gotten anything he wanted, God even demanded it, but he refused. I suppose he was trying to appear all spiritual by saying, “I will not put the Lord to the test.” God was not happy with his response, and so he got angry and he told him, “I am going to give a sign anyway.” This sign will prove to you that I will save you and deliver you. What is that sign? “A virgin will be with child, and bear a son and he will be called Immanuel. By the time he is old enough to eat curds and honey, he will be old enough to reject evil and choose good.”
The sign is in reference to a young woman, perhaps a virgin bearing a son who will change their situation. Within three years of this prophecy it appeared to have been fulfilled because their enemies were routed by the Assyrian army, and so the prophecy appeared to be complete, or was it?
Now fast forward over 700 years, to about 3 BC, to a carpenter named Joseph who decided to quietly divorce his recently betrothed because she is pregnant with a child that is not his. Because of this choice, Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream who tells Joseph, he should not be afraid to complete their engagement and be married because Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, in other words the child would be a miracle from God. Then the angel tells Joseph something very significant about this child, he is to be named Jesus, and he will be called Immanuel, referring to the passage we just read from Isaiah. Apparently the prophecy was not complete because Jesus is the true fulfillment.
Remember, God’s promise through the prophet Isaiah was that he would deliver his people. And now in Matthew’s gospel we are shown, that the prophecy is being fulfilled because this child was about to enter the world. There are two names in reference to this child which this passage mentions which are both significant to who this child is and what that means for us today.