The book of Isaiah is often known as the ‘Fifth Gospel’ for its detailed references to the future birth, life and death of the Messiah. Particularly at Christmastime, several passages from the prophet are read during Mass that are understood as references to the birth of Christ.
As Pope John Paul II explained: “One of the collections of prophecies of Isaiah is commonly called “The Book of Emmanuel” (Isaiah 6-12), because within it, the figure of an admirable child stands out. His name, “Emmanuel”, is full of mystery as it means “God with us”. This child is announced as a sign by the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz at a time of extreme danger to the ruling house and the people, as the king and nation are about to be overwhelmed by enemies.”
King Ahaz of Judah was terrified about the invasion, so God sent Isaiah to reassure him. Isaiah told him, in God’s name, that his royal family would not die out. His enemies, the kings of Aram and Israel, would not succeed. Concerning the future of the House of David, he said: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, whom she will call Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:12-14).
Isaiah later described this important birth in more detail. He said: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.” (9:6-7)
St Matthew’s gospel interprets Isaiah’s prophecy as a reference to the Virgin Birth of Christ. In his account of the Nativity, he wrote: “All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)
This stained glass scene of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Virgin Birth is found within Our Lady of Victories, in Kensington. Dating to 1959, the window is by Charles Blakeman and is part of an extensive series of windows in the church, also by him, that portray events in the life of the Virgin Mary.
It pictures Isaiah sharing his prophecy with King Ahaz. The Latin text, Ecce virgo concipiet, is from Isaiah 7:14 and means ‘Behold, the virgin will conceive’. Behind the king, we see the sign itself – the Virgin with her Son. The window is similar in design to a smaller example by Blakeman, found across London within St Etheldreda’s church, in Ely Place.
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Where to find this work of art
Our Lady of Victories, Kensington
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On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The First Gospel was the first prophecy of a Woman and her Son who would arrive to bring salvation. Isaiah added to this, with more detail of how this would come about.
- From the New Testament: In the Annunciation, the prophecy of Isaiah about the Virgin Birth began to be realised.