Approximately 700 years before Jesus' birth, God's people had divided themselves into two nations. A man named Ahaz was king of the southern kingdom, Judah. His kingdom was being threatened by two powerful enemies: Israel, the northern kingdom, and Syria. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz, encouraging the king to trust in God instead of making alliances with other foreign powers.
Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. So Isaiah told him what the sign would be:
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
The prophet explained that before this young boy was weaned, the nations Ahaz feared would no longer be a threat, while the ally he sought would turn out to be a more powerful enemy.
So a little boy was born, named Immanuel. He was a living sign from God, a reminder that God is with his people. Because Ahaz wouldn't listen and wouldn't put his trust in God, his nation would suffer defeat. But he had in this young boy the constant reminder of God's presence and willingness to help.
The name Immanuel took on a new meaning when a virgin gave birth to a son. God's presence among his people changed from a spiritual reality to a physical reality. The Word became flesh. God dwelt among his people as a human.
When Jesus left this earth, he left with a promise: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). We know that God is still with us.
Yet like Ahaz, we find it hard to trust. We see the problems around us. We face crisis after crisis. We come to believe that the only solutions available to us are human solutions. We're blind to the fact that those solutions will bring their own problems.
And we forget the reality that God is with us.
Immanuel. God with us. May we never forget.