All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the
prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name “Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:22-23
In the past weeks many of us have sung “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” What kind of coming have we had in mind? Probably we have thought of a wonderful, humble and gracious coming. True, as far as it goes. But did we envision a coming with terror? Yes, I did say “terror.” While the name “Immanuel” points to a wonderful and gracious salvation, it also points to a mighty and terrible destruction. This is because God saves his people by destroying their enemies. All of the great saving events of the Old and New Testaments include salvation for the humble and destruction of the proud. Think of Noah’s flood, Israel’s exodus and conquest of Canaan, and Jesus’ Second Advent. God’s people are not saved unless he destroys their enemies. The prophet Isaiah had this reality in mind when he introduced the name “Immanuel” into biblical literature.
While King Ahaz of Judah was facing an attack by Syria and Israel, Isaiah called him to trust in the LORD. Ahaz refused. Upon that unbelief the LORD gave him a sign: Immanuel. A son would be born and called by that name, indicating that the LORD had come to be with his people.
“The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 7:17)
Make no mistake: God being with his people meant he would destroy, by means of Assyria, the proud who trusted in man and deliver the humble who trusted in him.
“Because this people have refused the waters of Shiloh that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory.” (Isaiah 8:6-7)
This coming would bring both “destruction” and “overflowing righteousness”; destruction of the proud unbelievers who oppressed the poor and overflowing righteousness for the humble who looked to the LORD. (You may read more about this in Isaiah 9 & 10)
While Isaiah’s words had a near fulfillment in his own day, they pointed ultimately to a Son who would come to bring final salvation to his people. This Immanuel would be like the first; he would save his people from their enemies. That salvation could only happen by destroying those enemies which included not only sin, death and the Devil, but also their human oppressors. In 70 A.D. Immanuel destroyed the proud and wicked generation of Jews. His remnant survived and spread the good news around the Roman Empire. Destruction…overflowing with righteousness.
As we celebrate the coming of the King of Kings, it is right for us to sing “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” But let us remember that his coming was both wonderful and terrible. There is no other way the One and only, holy God could come and save his people from their sins.
Christmas Day, 2012