Our family primarily does this through observing the season of Advent. Last year, I wrote a post [Seeing and Savoring Christ at Christmas] that shared what Advent is, the joy our family has found through its celebration, and resources I can heartily recommend. Since our family has been purposefully immersing our hearts and minds in contemplating Christ’s incarnation, our Christmases have been rich with comfort, joy, gratitude, and growth.
This year is no different. We are already enjoying our family Advent study with our daughter, another that my husband and I are doing together, and I also have a time of personal reflection for the season. This year I have been contemplating the different names of Jesus, and there is one name to which my heart and mind keep returning. It is the name Emmanuel, and it has become a name I am savoring this Christmas season.
The Name Emmanuel
Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” carries incredible significance but is only mentioned three times in Scripture.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
To my chagrin, I can admit that in the past I’ve only given a brief consideration to these passages. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like any weighty truths are there. But the more I have read and studied this name within the entire scope of the Bible, I have found I could not have been more wrong. Emmanuel, “God with us” is a name like no other.
Separated From God’s Presence
To really appreciate Jesus as our Emmanuel, we must go back to the Garden of Eden, for it is here that we as His creation last fully enjoyed His physical presence. Adam and Eve knew God and daily basked in the unhindered fellowship they had with Him. While we know this intellectually, it is difficult for us to fully comprehend the delight of their experience. Sadly, Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation to doubt God and sin came into a perfect world. The worst part of sin’s entrance is that it ended man’s ability to know and fellowship with God as he had before. Now they were separated from Him and His presence. God was no longer with us. There is no doubt Adam and Eve felt an immense void at the loss of God’s presence.
From this point on we see a major shift in what it means to experience the presence of God. What had been joy, bliss, and comfort for Adam and Eve, would now be a reminder of the judgment we deserve and the chasm that lay between God and man because of sin. When we look at the times when God did reveal His presence to His people, it was generally not a happy or comforting experience. In fact, it was often terrifying. The Israelites experienced Him as a pillar of fire in the wilderness, and while it is true that fire guided them, I am sure they were very aware that He could have easily consumed them with it as well.
Moses also encountered God as fire through the burning bush. Later, when he asked God to reveal Himself to him in Exodus 33:18-23, God tells Moses that to do so would kill him! Even so, when God allows Moses to experience just a part of His presence from behind the covering of some rocks, Moses returns to the people with such a residual brightness and radiance coming off of him that he is forced to cover his face since the people cannot bear to look at him.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet is given a magnificent vision where he sees God ruling on His throne in all His glory. Isaiah experiences the angels singing songs of praise and worship to the Most High God. What is Isaiah’s reaction to all of this? He is undone and overcome. He is stunned by his glimpse into glory and can only respond with, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” For Isaiah, seeing God’s presence confirms our rightful and deserving judgment.
God’s Promised Presence Restored
These examples help to magnify the love, kindness, and graciousness of God’s promise to Adam and Eve when they left the garden. After sin came into the world, God knew that encountering His presence would reinforce our judgment. He did not, however, leave us without comfort. He gave mankind a promise to cling to. There would be a Redeemer.
God would be with us again. The King of Heaven would condescend to us. He wouldn’t just send a messenger or a servant like an earthly king would do. He would not be a distant, detached sovereign. God Himself would come to us to make things right. He would invade our lives with life-giving grace and power — at no cost to us and at great cost to Himself. He would immerse Himself in our mess. He would meet us where we are and pursue our wicked hearts. He would suffer more than we ever could. He would not just send a rescue mission — He would be the rescue mission.
Emmanuel came “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). While God’s presence in the Old Testament reinforced our judgment, His presence as Emmanuel emphasized our salvation. This is why Jesus says, “I have come into the world as light so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness…for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:46-47). Because of Emmanuel, we can once again find joy and comfort in the presence of God!
He Is With Us Still
After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, God did not leave us without His presence. He is still with us. We have the Holy Spirit, who has made us His tabernacle. He lives with us, and in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). God is with us now, and He will be until the end (Matthew 28:16-20).
Because of our relationship with the Spirit, we can know a tiny taste of the elation and delight that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden. Consider it a down payment on the joy to come in heaven, when we will be forever with the Lord — no barriers, no sadness, no suffering, no frail human bodies, no sickness, no sin will prevent us from experiencing the full glory of God WITHOUT END! This is why the angels sang the night of His birth and it is why we all will sing together for eternity!
We have so much to consider and be thankful for in Emmanuel. He who was once far off, is now near. Where once Moses could not fully behold His face, we now have daily communion with Him through the Son. He came to us, and He is with us still. What do you think Moses would say to that? How would he react to hearing that God became flesh? That He is still with us? Pastor and theologian Tim Keller believed Moses would say, “Do you know what this means? This is the very thing I was denied! Through Jesus, you can meet God. You can know him personally and without terror. Do you realize what’s going on? Where’s your joy? Where’s your amazement? This should be the driving force of your life!”
This Christmas, I encourage you to meditate on the joy of Emmanuel — our God with us. When we were ruined by sin, with no desire to be made right, He sought us. He laid aside His crown, clothed Himself in human flesh, died our cruel death, satisfied our payment, and gave us His righteousness to wear as our own. He gave us His Spirit to teach, strengthen, and guide us. And one glorious day, we will see Him as He is - our King of Glory and Grace! Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!
What does the name Emmanuel and His presence mean to you in this season?
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