All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” (verses 22-23)
It’s early, I know, for Christmas (though some of our local stores wouldn’t agree!), but this concise piece of Jesus’ birth narrative is crucial to the start of Matthew’s Gospel. We see Mary (“with child through the Holy Spirit”), Joseph (fretting, yet compassionate, over this pregnancy), the angel (in a dream, assuring Joseph it’s all God’s plan), Joseph’s resolve (to wed Mary anyway), followed by the birth of a child who receives the angel-announced name, “Jesus.”
At the centre is a prophetic word from Isaiah 7:14, which Matthew spreads like a banner over the entire incident, revealing its heart-stopping significance: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.” Then, precisely translating the name from Hebrew, he gives us the showstopper: this child is “God with us.”
Never has the little word “with” been so honoured. Never has it carried such weight. Almighty God has entered human history and experience, including conception and birth, leading into the tumultuous years of childhood and adolescence, maturing to adulthood, ending in early death – and then, stunningly, resurrection. But all of that is yet to come.
At the moment, this miraculous birth echoes with the simplicity of the word “with.” As Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14, “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”What surprise. What grace. The Lord himself chooses to make himself known through sheer presence.
I’m reminded of another prophetic word that leapt off the Old Testament page at me several years ago. I’d wager it’s the shortest prophecy in the whole of scripture. It’s found in the book of Haggai, a record of prophecies given to God’s people during a four-month period in 520 BC. They’d returned from exile with the goal of rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple, but they’d been waylaid, slowed by hostile neighbours and their own increasing lethargy. The Lord rebuked them through Haggai. Chastened, they returned to building.
Then Haggai brought another message, prefaced with a full-blown drumroll (“Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people”). We lean forward, expecting something big. It is, but, oh so short.
“'I am with you,' declares the Lord” (Haggai 1:13).
It’s the gift of presence. The Sovereign God of all universes was making himself present with that specific cluster of people huddled in Jerusalem. They’d repented, yes, and re-engaged in their God-given task, but perhaps they wondered, “Is it enough? Does God approve? Are we back in his good graces?”
The Lord spoke: “I am with you.” He embraced them beyond their failure and waywardness. His blessing was with them. What grace.
Grace now explodes in this birth in Matthew 1. No longer simply for a small group huddled in Jerusalem, but rather birthed into the whole world. And not just a spoken message, gracing human ears. More powerfully yet, the message is now embodied, become flesh, embracing human life, entering human experience, ready to rescue those who are wayward still. For as Matthew also tells us, this child is named Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.”
So, welcome his presence. This piece of history reverberates still – the child born to Mary, is the resurrected Lord, who lives eternally as Immanuel.
Oh, the wonder of that word “with.”
Lord Jesus, praise your name. You entered our word, you stepped into the fullness of our experience. You came to rescue. You came to be “with.” I am eternally grateful.
Reflect: Let the reality of “with” embrace you here and now. Receive his presence afresh. Remind yourself throughout the day. Walk “with”him.