Joseph learnt “…you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1.21), The Bible

December 2009

“Emma!” Diane’s voice was decisive. I was holding our new little daughter after a – well, different – birth, and I had just asked Diane for the baby’s name.  I already knew the answer, and the answer Diane gave was not the one I was expecting!“Emma’‘, as a name was nearly as much a surprise as Emma’s birth – in the car, 10 minutes from hospital.We did not know the sex of any of our children before they were born, and so had names of both sexes for each child.  Timothy was also “Elizabeth Claire”, Nathanael was “Elizabeth Joy”, as was Thomas, so I knew that this little girl was “Elizabeth”, and probably “Joy”.  “Emma?”, I asked, “Why Emma?”  “She just is an Emma!”  And so she was, Emma Joanne, to be precise, as I was allowed to choose the second name.  I later discovered that Diane was a little influenced by a dear old lady who had just passed away, called Emmadine, but really just felt it was the best name for her little girl.

I was reminded of this in a recent conversation where someone pregnant revealed that she did not know the sex of her unborn child.  I responded that I thought that was nice, as knowing was rather like unwrapping a Christmas present before Christmas.  I initially asked Jenny if her boys’ sex had been a surprise and she cheerfully replied that she knew that both were boys long before their birth.  On the other hand, Aedan’s sex was a complete surprise; Natalie wanted to know, but Tim wouldn’t let her, to the extent that when the nurse offered to tell, her friend Joy was very willing to stay and learn the sex independently (the answer was no). My analogy with Christmas presents, however, was really off the mark!

Think about it.  The very first Christmas gift was well and truly unwrapped before birth.  Gabriel even hinted to Zechariah about the baby when telling that surprised old priest that his wife Elizabeth was going to have her own child in old age.  He utterly blew it when he asked Mary to be the mother “You will be with child, and give birth to a son.” (Luke 1.31), even going on to give the name “Jesus” to the baby.  Mary flees to Elizabeth, the only one able to understand what’s going on, and Elizabeth immediately eggs the prediction “But why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1.43).  Joseph fared no better.  Having discovered his betrothed was ‘with child’ – and not his – he resolved to divorce her quietly, but while asleep, the angel appears to him and declares that Mary is God’s servant, Joseph is to take her as his wife, and he continues, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1.21).  By now Gabriel has given away the sex, the name, the identity (the Lord) and his life programme (save his people from their sins)!

Not to be outdone, Gabriel quotes the prophets of old; this child will be called Immanuel, meaning God with us, as he quotes Isaiah from around 800 years before the birth.  When the Magi arrive seeking the new born king, Herod’s scholars are able to determine where the baby must have been born – Bethlehem – from Micah, another 800 years ago prophet. (Matthew 2.6).   Jesus’ birth was so predicted, that we can travel backwards through the Old Testament, finding numerous references to his birth, life, work and death.  King David, 1000 years before, wrote about his illustrious descendent in Psalm 110 “The Lord says to my Lord: sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” – a point drawn out by Jesus (Matthew 22.44), and of course, it was King David who wrote the Shepherd Psalm (23) that pointed to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Both Moses and Abraham before him looked forward to this child’s birth; in fact the earliest reference is found for those with eyes to see in the curse on Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit, when the serpent is told, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3.15).  The whole of the Old Testament could be described as a slow unwrapping of this wonderful Christmas gift of the child born to be King, born to save.  That’s why we have so much to celebrate at Christmas; it’s not that we don’t know what the present is, but that slow revelation of such a glorious truth reaches its climax on Christmas Day.

Praying that you may see Christmas unwrapped, and the joyful gift of a Saviour in Christ Jesus, bringing the certainty of eternal life in Him.

Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Simon Cox.