We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
Behold A Virgin Shall Conceive
Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23 (fullfilled)
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us.”
Bible scholars estimate that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled over 400 Old Testament prophecies in His first coming (*see below). The odds of one man fulfilling these many prophecies are astronomic and staggering. But in these prophecies and fulfillment the God of history is identifying Jesus as His promised Messiah.
Charles Jennens purposefully chose Bible passages that would show how the Old Testament was a story of God’s preparation for Messiah. That is why, remarkably, 16 of the 22 Bible passages in this first section of Messiah are from the Old Testament. Jesus is demonstrably the One foretold from long ago.
Seven hundred and fifty years before Messiah’s coming God gave a sign to specify the manner in which He would enter our world. This is a sign, lest any should miss it: Messiah will be born to a virgin.
There were some in Jennen’s and Handel’s day, no less than ours, who mocked God’s promise of the virgin birth. “Impossible!” they cry. “Mere superstition and myth”, even some churchmen scoff.
But God intends this specifically as a “sign”. It is to be a sign of the miracle that is Christmas! The God of heaven and earth will not be bound by the processes of human existence. He comes bringing life out of death, good out of evil, and even Messiah from a virgin womb.
This is our God! And this is a sign of His coming to us, the virgin birth. As Christians we glory in the paradox that is Christmas. God becomes one of us, eternity breaks into time, and we are made the children of God. Who can understand! But we cherish the things we cannot understand, yet know to be true. The eternal Son of the eternal God who created the universe joins Himself to human flesh, through a virgin.
In today’s prophetic text God declares the significance of Messiah’s coming to us: He will be “Emmanuel” (Hebrew: Emmanu = “with us”; el = “God”). The virgin-born Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled this text. He was God who walked among us as “God with us”. The name “Emmanuel” is added to His other name “Jesus”. Jesus is His personal name, meaning “salvation is of the Lord”, and Emmanuel is His ruling title,“God with us”. Jesus’ promise to us forever stands: “I am with you always even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
God refuses to dwell high in the heavens, watching from a safe distance, but joins Himself to the whole human spectacle. He began as an embryo, just as we each began. He entered headfirst into our rough and tumble world, into all of our mess and messes. He is one with the grieving widow, the cancer sufferer, the abandoned spouse, the college student searching for a reason. Jesus is “God with us”whenever we reach out to Him with empty hands.
The businessman who pictures Jesus at his side while he works, the weary laborer who asks for strength to finish the day, the teenage girl on dialysis who struggles for answers, and the grieving widower suddenly alone who asks Jesus to be with him – all can be sure of Jesus as Emmanuel.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was only thirty-nine years old when he was executed by hanging in a Nazi concentration camp. He experienced loneliness, suffering, and darkness. Yet he spoke often of Jesus’ presence. In his book, A Testament to Freedom, Bonhoeffer writes:
God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved into us.
Yes, the eternal home has truly moved in with us, and made us to be one flesh with Him. Thus with Christians throughout the centuries, we proudly and joyfully proclaim:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man (Nicene Creed).
*See Josh McDowell, New Evidence that Demands a Verdict; Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
The soloist sings softly of Emmanuel’s coming. Her gentle voice is in marked contrast to yesterday’s “he shall purify”. In this sweet, unassuming solo we hear the humility of the Virgin, and of her Son, Emmanuel. The music brightens to a major key with God’s promise of Emmanuel.
The solo is sung with the minimal accompaniment of harpsichord and cello, with no fanfare. The music is in keeping with all that we know of Emmanuel’s meek and modest spirit. It is important to note that Charles Jennens adds the word “Behold” to Isaiah’s promise of the virgin born Emmanuel. Roger Bullard explains the reason why Jennens adds the word “Behold”:
This same word, sung over the same interval and in the same key, will recur later in the oratorio when the bass tells us of another mystery, that of the resurrection: “Behold, I tell you a mystery.” The musical identity is highly appropriate, for like the resurrection of the dead, the virgin birth is a mystery…a mystery before which we can only come in the kind of awe communicated by the alto’s soft assurance that in this mystery, God is with us.
The final words of the solo are punctuated with a pause after the word “Emmanuel”. The pause is to accentuate God’s assurance that He is with us.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.