Two years ago, my wife, Laurin, and I were in the lobby of the Ryman, weaving our way through the crowds on our way to find our seats. We knew the drill well. We had attended this same Christmas show every December for years (and still do). It’s a tradition for us. But this particular year, my wife did something out of the ordinary. As we passed by the merch table near the entrance to the auditorium proper, she nudged me and suggested I buy the vinyl record of the album we were about to hear performed live.
That might not seem all that strange to you, but you have to understand something: I didn’t own a record player. I turned to my bride and reminded her of my lack of turntable, but she insisted. Then something clicked in my brain. Here we were, just two weeks before Christmas, and Laurin was pressing me to buy a record I was sure to love. She must have gotten me a record player for Christmas, I thought to myself silently, not wanting to ruin her surprise. Then I sauntered over to the table of goodies and handed a volunteer a twenty-dollar bill in exchange for the vinyl.
On Christmas morning, after all the gifts had been opened and our two boys were sprawled out on the floor in new toy bliss, Laurin turned to me with a smile and said, “I have one more gift for you.” Of course she did. But instead of handing me a package large enough to contain a direct-drive high-fidelity turntable with built-in pre-amp, she pulled a small box from behind her back. I unwrapped the little and obviously non-record-playing gift and discovered a crocheted elephant with a note that read, “We’re going to have another peanut.” That little peanut came along eight months later. His name is Luke James, and he is one of the great joys of my life.
I thought I was getting one good gift, but got something different and far better. This was what happened to Judah when Isaiah made his now-famous announcement: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
These words were originally spoken to King Ahaz. God had offered this stubborn king deliverance from his military woes and even promised to give him a sign of his own choosing so that he could know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Lord would be true to His word. Ahaz refused, but God rescued Judah all the same and even gave Ahaz the sign he said he didn’t want: Isaiah’s wife gave birth to a son (Isaiah 8:3), and sure enough, before he was old enough “to reject what is bad and choose what is good” (Isaiah 7:16), Ahaz’s enemies were no longer a threat (Isaiah 8:4), just as God had promised.
That was a good gift, but there was an even better one wrapped up in God’s promise to Ahaz—another Son, this one born of a virgin, who would deliver the world from sin and death. Jesus is the better gift by far. In Him, Immanuel, or “God with us,” is not just a promise of comfort; it’s God the Son setting aside His glory to put on flesh and become one of us.
All these years since Isaiah first spoke this promise, the events of Ahaz’s reign have been mostly lost to history. Hardly anyone reads the words of Isaiah 7:14 with the first child in mind. It’s all become about Jesus—because it always was. No matter what we think we want or need, Jesus is the answer to our heart’s greatest longings.
At Christmas, we celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever received. I’m going to do so again this year—with my beautiful son Luke in my arms (and still without a record player to speak of).
Written by John Greco