The Gift of Presence

“The Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman1 is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NRSV).

The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of the Messianic hope of the Old Testament. The narrative of Isaiah 7:1-16 is a prophecy in which the prophet predicted the birth of a child to be born of a young Judean woman and the role he would play in the history of Israel. When Isaiah proclaimed those words, the king of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were facing a difficult political crisis.

When the king and the people realized the enormity of the danger Judah was facing, at that time of urgent need, God sent a message of hope to Ahaz, king of Judah. The prophet told the king that unless he believed, he and his people could not be delivered. Ahaz refused to accept the message and would not believe the word of God.

To prove his intention to save the people, God promised to give the king a sign. A young maiden would conceive a son and she would name him Immanuel, “God is with us.” The child was God’s gift to Israel, a visible sign that God would be with his people to save them.

The prophet also said that before the child would be old enough to distinguish between good and evil, those invading Judah would be destroyed. Several months later Israel and Syria were conquered by Assyria and what God had promised became a reality. God saved his people and the child became the sign of the divine presence with them.

Christmas gives us the same promise, only in greater depth. In Christ God became human and everyone felt his presence. In the Holy Child of Bethlehem we meet the God of the Old Testament, the God who came to save his people from their sins.

The birth of Christ was a necessary element of the divine work of redemption, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The great miracle and mystery of Christmas is evidence that God alone works for the salvation of his creation.

Our salvation could not be accomplished by ourselves, but by the direct presence of God among us. The name of the Child born in Bethlehem was the true fulfillment of the words of Isaiah. During the days of the prophet, God was present with his people spiritually, in their faith, but in Christ, God himself is present among us.

In Christ we see love in action and in him we see the fulfillment of God’s promises. In Christ, God is present with us, in him we find the certainty of God’s deliverance, through him we can lift up our hearts in hopeful expectation of victory.

Because of God’s gift of his presence, we know we are not alone. The prince of peace and the creator of all things was born in a manger to fulfill his promise: “I will never leave you alone.”

As we celebrate Christmas today, we must accept God’s greatest gift: the gift of his eternal presence with us.

A Christmas Prayer:

“God, today we celebrate your presence among us. Give us faith to believe that we are not alone; give us grace to accept your gift of love; give us mercy to encourage us when we doubt; and give us hope to believe that you are present with us through all our struggles. Amen.”

Merry Christmas.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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