Christmas is an easy holiday to hijack. Just look around. This time of year there is as much that has nothing to do with Jesus as there is that does. But we keep our own heads with sayings like “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We should never neglect to consider, however, what is the reason for Jesus.
Matthew 1:23 contains the famous line “Behold, the virgin will be with child.” You may just hear a sermon on that verse this season, or even be preaching on it yourself. Reflect for a moment, though, that that celebrated pronouncement is only secondly about Jesus and even less about Mary. It’s about David. Let me explain.
That line, as I’m sure you know, is a quotation of Isaiah 7:14. But what’s going on in Isaiah 7:1–13? In other words, why did the prophet give the prophecy? Well, in verses 1 and 5–6 it says the problem of the day is that two kings from the north want to join forces and attack Jerusalem, get rid of the king, and install their own puppet-king. Now this is more than just a war story. You see, God had promised David that his house would endure forever; he would always have a son on the throne to rule over God’s covenant people (cf. 2 Sam 7:12–13). Clearly Isaiah is concerned with this; just look at what he calls the king in verses 2 and 13: “House of David.” Isaiah doesn’t call him by his name, Ahaz, but by the theological significance he embodies: the promise to David that he’ll always have an heir on the throne. Therefore, these kings from the north are not just after Jerusalem; rather they are mounting a full-scale assault on God himself! They are attempting to undermine God’s very word and eradicate the earth of his redemptive promises. And even though the Lord guarantees that their attack will not prevail (verses 4, 7–9), Ahaz still doubts (verses 11–12). It is then that Isaiah gives the prophecy to the “House of David” in verses 13–14. The point of the rest of Isaiah 7–8 is that before this child is old enough to even say “Mama” or “Papa” these two northern kings will already be no more (8:4). Thus, when Ahaz sees all this take place, he will know for certain that God is for the House of David, because it is through David’s line that he will bring the blessings of Abraham to all the earth (cf. Gen 12:3). And that’s exactly what happens: a child is born in Isaiah 8 and the threat is gone. It is a story of how God has saved the House of David from near death in preservation of his redemptive promises to Abraham, David and, ultimately, the whole world.
Make sense so far? Well, it surely is a good story of the narrow escape from death of a dynasty so important to God’s plan of salvation. But, as we return to Matthew 1 we remember that over 700 years have passed since Isaiah’s day. And in that time, the unthinkable has happened. Though the House of David was spared in Isaiah 7–8, it was eventually defeated, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the promises of God have gone unfulfilled for generations upon generations (cf. 2 Kings 24–25). That, in turn, is what makes Matthew 1:23 so exciting. Out of nowhere Matthew evokes this old story of the House of David. The point is succinctly this: in the past the Lord saved the House of David from near death, but even greater than that the Lord is now resurrecting the House of David from the grave! It had been dead for over half a millennium. Few thought it would ever reemerge. Many concluded that God had given up on that promise, perhaps given up entirely on his plan of salvation. But suddenly, in history, a true virgin is with child marking an even greater deliverance for the House of David: resurrection from the grave! And thus, with unimaginable historic tension, God is proven true to his word and the House of David is back!
Thus, Isaiah 7–8 was a picture of greater realities to come. And this time it’s permanent. Notice also that in Matthew 1:23 we are told that the name Emmanuel means “God is with us.” Well, at the end of the Gospel, in Matthew 28:20, Jesus makes this shocking statement: “Lo, I am with you always.” Thus, after his own personal death and resurrection, David’s greatest son is with us always. He is the presence of God among us—the resurrected Son who promises us resurrection as well.
So Merry Christmas. Yes, it’s about the birth of a child. Sure, it’s about Mary too. But that child is a statement from the Lord that he is a faithful and saving God who brings life out of death—in history, in Jesus and in us too.