Each year during the Christmas season, I look forward to digging deeper into the meaning of the name Immanuel. The songs, sermons, blog posts, cards, poems, and even the natural direction of my personal Bible study all afford the opportunity to refresh and renew my understanding of this name.
The Old Testament, Immanuel (Hebrew: עִמָּנוּאֵל meaning, “God with us, also Romanized Emmanuel, Imanu’el) is a Hebrew name which appears in the Book of Isaiah as a sign that God will protect the House of David. While it is true that God came to us with the purpose to redeem us, there are even deeper layers of meaning to dig into. For me, this phrase, “God with us,” brings up the picture of the great strong arms of our 6’2” son, Matthew, lovingly enveloping our tiny 3-year-old granddaughter Penny’s form. He gently calms her, stroking her hair, reminding her that he is with her, and she has nothing to fear, he will protect her and provide for her.
Now, she can continue to struggle and cry, insisting that there is something under her bed, that the broken toy will never again bring the joy it once did, or that she will never be happy unless she can eat ice cream before she finishes dinner. But this stubborn insistence that she be allowed to define the world according to her limited ability, we know will ultimately bring her harm. She must trust her dad, and then surrender to how he defines what is right and good for her. He won’t abandon her to herself. He will be with her.
If she were willing to surrender and believe her dad and trust him for who he has proven himself to be, things would be different. The joyful freedom she could enjoy would help her to experience all the happiness her parents have planned for her and give her the strength and ability to handle the inevitable pain or disappointments that will come. It would even help her when it comes to denied or delayed pleasure. If she trusts him and eats that broccoli before it gets cold, she may have that longed-for ice cream, and she’ll be up and out the door to play way before bedtime.
Surrender and trust to the God who is with us works in us a freedom and a sense of being complete that nothing else can. Sadly, just like Penny, I want to be the one who defines happiness, health, peace, comfort, and joy. I demand that I know what is best for me. But without the wisdom of God, these definitions are short-sighted, self-centered, and incomplete, and usually wrong. I want and need to rest in My Father’s wise counsel and warm embrace. He has promised to be “with” me, not only to change my eternal position before a Holy God, but then to show me how to have “life and have it more abundantly.”
When God gave the Messiah the name Immanuel, he sent a very clear message. He, the holy, omnipotent, omniscient God was coming to earth to be with us. He came to calm every fear, heal all our diseases, fill every crack in our brokenness, and redefine our small view of pleasure, wealth, and happiness. He does all this as he wraps us in the everlasting covering of righteousness.
This is security. Complete and eternal. The Incarnation is one of the greatest demonstrations of the love of God toward sinful humanity. He has given us everything for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4) because He has given us the Lord, Jesus Christ our Savior and we find our only true rest in Him.