This prophetic statement quoted from the book of Isaiah is a truly astounding verse.

Why is it astounding? Because of who was promised to be born – Immanuel! and because of the significance, this birth should have, on each and every one of our lives!

Now unusual, or exceptional births are fairly common in the bible. Each one was a significant step forward in redemptive history. God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah laughed at the prospect of any children, especially a son in her old age. "The LORD said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Shall I indeed bear a child?, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Genesis 18:13) In time God fulfilled his promise and Isaac was born, heir of the promise.

Samson was also born to Manoah and his wife in a similar manner when it seemed they were destined to live without the blessing of any children. God promised she would conceive and have a son: "and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines." (Judges 13:5) Once again in due time, God fulfilled his promise.

Hannah too was barren and asked the LORD for a son to take away her reproach and misery of being barren. God answered her prayers. "The LORD remembered Hannah, and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son." (1 Samuel 1:19-20) Samuel, her son, became the last judge and anointer of the first kings of Israel.

John the Baptist's mother, Elizabeth, was also barren and advanced in years until God graciously promised her husband Zachariah a son. An angel appeared to him while serving in the temple and said: "your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son." (Luke 1:13)

All of these births were incredible. Yet none of these can compare with the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, the son of Mary. She too was visited by an angel. She enquired how this was possible since she was a virgin! She was told, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God." (Luke 1:35) The child to be born was none other than God himself, born into this world in human form! He too was the result of a promise, or sign to King Ahaz over 400 years earlier, that God would spare his people and the offspring of David, from a military disaster that threatened to wipe them out.

The gospel of Matthew, from which the text we are considering is taken, starts with the express purpose of establishing Jesus' credentials by detailing the humanity and deity of Jesus. This is fundamental to the Christian faith, that Jesus is both completely God and man - the promised Messiah. It was necessary to enable him to reconcile people to Himself through his substitutionary death and resurrection. If Jesus had not been both human and divine, there would be no good news, no gospel to tell.

We are told by Matthew that Joseph had discovered that Mary was pregnant, and was wondering what to do. It was precisely then that he was visited by an angel of the Lord. He was told that the baby had no earthly father, “behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Spirit.'” (Matthew 1:20) This verse underlines the supernatural and miraculous nature of Jesus' birth. The angel's message provided much-needed assurance and direction to Joseph. It also proves to us that Jesus had a legal, legitimate and royal lineage through Joseph, as a descendant of King David. Jesus was indeed born king of the Jews.

When the wise men some months later arrived and confronted Herod, they asked “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) You can just imagine the shock this gave Herod who was ruling the territory at this time! Worried about his throne, he cruelly ordered the massacre of all the children in Bethlehem under two years of age.

Paul the apostle, was very clear concerning the birth of Jesus, he says “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” (Galatians 4:4) Notice how Paul does not include any mention of a human father, for God alone was his father. His miraculous conception and birth remains hard, or impossible to believe by many. However, this should be no surprise, as nothing is impossible with God - as biblical history has shown. What is harder to believe? The creation of the universe from nothing, and the forming of the first man, or the virgin birth? The latter would be a simple task for the Creator, to create a human body for his own son.

Joseph was even expressly told what name to give the child, and the reason why: "she (Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “Jehovah (Yahweh) will save.” This brings memories of another former deliverer, who led the Israelites into the promised land and was victorious over their enemies. However, Jesus would provide a far greater deliverance. Jesus, by His own sacrificial death on the cross and triumphant resurrection, would save many from the consequences of their sin (death), and grant eternal life to all who believe in him.

Ignatius Theophors

I notice the letters of Ignatius Theophors have been the subject of recent interest in the media. This has been due to a recent documentary shown on Amazon Prime, and an article posted in the Daily Express on 26th Feb 2019. Ignatius was believed to be a disciple of John the Apostle, who lived between 107BC and 35AD, dying as a martyr in Rome. The six letters he wrote are interesting in that they are with us today and scholars believe they are genuine. For example in the documentary, Larry Hurtado from Edinburgh University said: “We have seven authentic letters of Ignatius that survived". More importantly in these letters written to various churches, Ignatius writes “Jesus my God" Larry says "this is not a discussion as to whether Jesus could be God", and "Ignatius states it clearly and knows his readers will agree with him."

In summary, here we have authentic early letters outside of the canon of scripture that clearly states that Jesus is God himself. Immanuel, God with us. This is not surprising since John's gospel opens with simply astounding words concerning Jesus. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He (Jesus) was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1) "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

Back to our text and Joseph. He trusted and followed the angel's instructions, but what of you? Will you trust and believe Matthew's account of the virgin birth, and Isaiah's prophecy? Will you embrace the timeless Christmas message, and accept Jesus into your heart and home not only as your rightful King and saviour but also as your God?

In closing, I'm reminded of the words of doubting Thomas after seeing Jesus alive for the first time after his crucifixion and resurrection. After seeing and possibly touching the nail prints in Jesus' hands, he says in wonder and awe: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), or as a more literal English translation of the original Greek renders it "the Lord of me and the God of me!" I hope like Thomas, you too will come to embrace Jesus as your God and only saviour.

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