Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
In the great pause before Christmas day, we turn to what is probably the best known prophecy of Jesus’ birth. Here we have one who will be born of a virgin, a sign which “the Lord himself” will give. This son will bear the name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. A rich prophecy indeed.
Since these words deal with the virgin birth, they have received a lot of attention in recent decades. There are many who would like to strip away this awkward doctrine, and so it is pointed out that the Hebrew word almah can simply mean young girl rather than virgin. Which is true. It can mean both.
So is this all a mistake? Does this prophecy simply mean that Jesus’ mother was young?
To answer that question, we need to visit the great Egyptian city of Alexandria and turn the clock back around 2,200 years. At that time the Hebrew book of Isaiah was being translated into Greek, and when the translator got to Isaiah 7:14, and the word almah he thought for a moment, and wrote down the Greek word parthenos. Which does mean virgin. There’s something else worth thinking about too. What sort of “sign” would it be if a young woman gave birth? It would be a rather underwhelming miracle! Not much of a sign, there. The point of signs, after all, is that they stand out.
Over seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Isaiah told people to look out for the sign. Five or six hundred years later, an Egyptian translator confirmed that the sign would be a virgin conceiving a child, and we should prepare for “God with us”.
And tomorrow he arrives.