Thank God for 1980s Amy Grant. I can’t read the lessons appointed for Advent 4, Year A without immediately hearing those great synthesize riffs. See, in Year A, Advent 4 is all about the name of Jesus. Not Yeshua, as his name would be in Aramaic, but the name promised by the Father through Isaiah as the sign for Ahaz of his impending military success.
Some seven hundred years later, Matthew took this yet unfulfilled prophecy and attached it to the birth of Jesus, which followed the model of the original. Like the prophecy, which told of a child born to a young woman, almah, likely unmarried but of marriage age, Jesus was born to Mary, a young girl, engaged to Joseph but not yet known by him (Biblical euphemism that means they had not yet engaged in intercourse). Ahaz had failed to live up to God’s intention for him or his kingdom and was, of course, duly punished. In the intervening years, there had been no fulfillment of the promise, no child born to an almah who would come close to being Immanuel – God with us.
Until that fateful day when Mary and her betrothed saddled up their donkey to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of a taxation census. Then, according to Matthew’s interpretation, the promise was finally fulfilled, God was born on earth. God was here. Or as Eugene Peterson has famously translated John 1, God moved into the neighborhood.
What is amazing about this story, seven hundred years later than it was intended to take place, is that God never left. Immanuel, more commonly spelled with an E these days, never again went away. God was with us, God is with us, and God will forever be with us, thanks to the life giving sacrifice of sending God’s only Son to be born of an almah and to live and die as one of us. As the days continue to get shorter ahead of the winter solstice, this lesson seems vitally important. The darkness of the season is often matched by the darkness of our hearts and minds. Depression is common, suicides increase, disappointment seems to be around every corner. There is much in this season that can make us wonder if God really is still here, but the promise of Isaiah, reinvigorated by Matthew, assures us that in Jesus, God’s Emmanuel, God is here.