A sign refers to something that reflects the potential presence of another thing. In a more straightforward description, a sign is a reality that points to another fact which may or may not be present. In other words, a sign communicates value to the mind or understanding of anyone who encounters it. Generally, they are predictive guides.
There are natural signs like smoke indicating the presence of fire or thick dark clouds pointing to potential rains. In medicine, there are vital signs that show the status of physical health. Spiritual signs, on the other hand, are more complicated because one can’t understand them through the senses like the smoke indicating a fire. Instead, one gets to understand spiritual signs through divine revelation.
In the First Reading today (Isaiah 7:10-14), God encouraged Ahaz, the king of Judah, to ask for a sign as deep as the netherworld or as high as the sky. This conversation was happening when Rezin, the king of Aram allied with Pekah the king of Israel to attack Jerusalem the capital of Judah. Though they could not conquer the city, the king and the people were greatly troubled.
Responding to God’s instruction to ask for a sign, Ahaz the king, declined. God, however, gives a sign which states that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. How does this same help Ahaz in his present predicament? Can we say that the sign is out of context since the prophecy was realized after seven hundred years when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Emmanuel? Yes and no!
The beginning of that seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah tells that Jerusalem was attacked but not conquered. However, the king and the people were still in fear. God assures Ahaz that He is with them and would save them. Concerning the Virgin that would bear a Son, the Emmanuel, God was projecting that in the future, He would come to be with His people in human flesh (See John 1:14), and save them not just from the aggression of worldly kings but from the king of evil; the devil himself.
Can a Virgin conceive, have a Child, and remain a Virgin?
Biologically, a virgin is a woman that has not experienced intimate contact with a man involving any form of penetration. Some experts argue that a virgin can get pregnant when there is an intense petting that leads to the spilling of the male seed around the female reproductive organ; this is said to happen in rare situations.
If by chance, a virgin conceives, would it be possible for her to have her child in the usual way and route with her virginity intact? Obstetricians and gynecologists could respond to this scenario.
Mary’s Virginity and Virginal Birth
Mary’s virginity is undisputable. The account of Luke (1:26ff) tells us that, “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to…a virgin betrothed a man called Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary”
The sixth month here refers to the timing of the pregnancy of Elizabeth. The preceding verses (Luke 1:24-25) tells us about her fifth month. After the encounter with the angel Gabriel, we learn that Mary, hearing about the status of her cousin Elizabeth traveled to see her and stayed with her for three months (Luke 1:56). She could have witnessed the birth of John the Baptist.
Upon Mary’s return after the visit to Elizabeth, it became clear that she was pregnant as the Gospel of today reveals (Matthew 1:18-24). One could imagine the confusion and frustration of Joseph, who was waiting for Mary to return from her cousins to conclude the marriage rites. He was planning to end the union when the angel of the Lord visited to tell him not to dismiss her because child was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and he obeyed and took Mary to his house but he did not have relations with her (Matt. 1:25); who would dare enter where God is sitting?
Moving Forward: Understanding the Sign of Emmanuel
From the following elucidations, we understand that the Virgin’s conception and the birth of the Emmanuel is the sign, but what is it indicating?
To answer the above question, we need to understand why our Lord Jesus Christ came in the first place. St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:15) says that Jesus Christ came to the world to save sinners. And talking about sinners, we all are (Romans 3:23). Furthermore, speaking in the first person, our Lord Jesus Christ says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Putting everything together, we can say that the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is a sign of our salvation; in order words, Christmas is a divine sign pointing at Easter. Without Christmas, Easter would have no relevance.
The most critical word in the Liturgy of the Word today is “Emmanuel” which means God-is-with-us. God’s presence in our midst should be the turning point of the narratives of our lives. When God is with you nothing and nobody can successfully be against us (Romans 8:31). God is with us to take away our sins (John 1:29). God is with us to fight our battles (Psalm 35:1). God is with us to give us life in abundance (John 10:10b).
As we celebrate this Fourth and last Sunday of Advent, may we continue to radiate in the joy of the sign of the Emmanuel that would lead to our redemption from the stranglehold of sin and damnation.
Have a blessed Sunday, and may your blessings increase with the presence of God in our midst!