Christmas is such a secular holiday anymore that a person is made to feel like they’re offending someone if they unselfishly wish someone a “merry Christmas.” Instead, it’s all about having “happy holidays” or enjoying “the season” (my Christmas cards for this year say that . . . but what “season”? Winter? The season of blessing retailers with books in the black?). It’s gotten so strange that some claim that you don’t need Christ in Christmas. That makes sense . . . nowhere. I’m surprised that calling it simply “the giving season” hasn’t caught on, akin to the calling of Thanksgiving “turkey day.”
I’m not complaining so much as noting the secular trend, in full swing now, to eliminate Christianity from public life. Christmas, however, gives us the opportunity to enlighten people about God’s word, possibly more than any other holiday. When it comes to Easter, people need to accept the New Testament witness regarding Christ’s resurrection. With Christ’s birth, however, there are prophecies from the Old Testament (or Tanakh) that are pretty clear, and, there is no good reason to think the prophecies weren’t written centuries before Jesus was born. These prophecies are from the books of Isaiah and Micah.
First, and no doubt very familiar, is Isaiah 7:14. With verse 13 for context: “Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.'” This prophecy is announced as fulfilled in Matthew 1:22-23. Here it is in context (Matthew 1:20b-23):
“an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”
Some critics like to point out that the word “virgin” is not specifically used in Isaiah, but, in the historical and cultural context, a young unmarried woman (a translation of the word used) meant the same thing as “virgin.” It’s an odd criticism in any case, since, what else would God have meant? Would an unchaste girl getting pregnant be any kind of sign from God?
Another criticism, and one without merit, is that the book of Isaiah may have been altered later. There is no end to such criticisms of the Bible generally. However, Isaiah is consistently viewed as ancient by scholars, even if some moderns like to imagine that it was written by two or three authors during three periods (the youngest being from about 400 BC). More importantly, the birth prophecy is in the early part of the book, universally believed to be written in the 700s by Isaiah. Regarding complete authenticity of the writings, a confirmation came via a Dead Sea Scroll of the entire book of Isaiah. This scroll is from about 150-125 BC. Having confidence in the authenticity and the ancientness of Isaiah, we can enjoy the related prophecies in Isaiah 9 (1b-2, 6-7):
“. . . in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful[,] Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”
There is another prophecy, from Micah 5 (2 & 4), that is quoted in Matthew and is therefore considered fulfilled. As written in Matthew 2:6:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
The book of Micah was written about the same time as Isaiah was. There are more prophecies regarding Jesus Christ, of course, some fulfilled and some yet to be. You can view some of them in a linked list at Prophecies Jesus Fulfilled.
Wishing you a warm and love-filled Christmas, I also leave you with a couple of songs for you to enjoy:
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (simple and traditional; Bruce Crockburn)
Oh Holy Night (Josh Groban)
Sources: (1) NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan 2005), pp 1055, 1115, 1477. (2) Rational Steps to Belief in Christ