Today is Christmas Day - December 25th, 2022
The time of Santa Claus, St. Nick, or Kris Kringle. He is a man of many names. Like St. Nick, have you ever noticed that Jesus is given multiple names in his birth narrative? The angel tells Mary and Joseph that their baby will be called Jesus (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:31). However, Matthew tells us that this baby will be called Immanuel (Matt. 1:23). So, which is it? Is he called Jesus or Immanuel? Why does Jesus have two names? The truth is that both names are very significant for understanding who Jesus is and what he means for the Christian faith.
The name Jesus is connected to the Hebrew word for salvation (Yasha). When the angel gives the reason for naming him Jesus, it appears to be a wordplay on Jesus' name. He says that Mary's son will be called Jesus (probably something like Yeshua in Hebrew)story's and he will save (a form of Yasha) his people from their sins. So the first name we learn for Jesus connects him to his identity as a savior. It is important to note that Jesus saves us from our sins, but he also saves us for something. That is articulated by the second name we learn for him.
The second name we learn is the name Immanuel, which is a Hebrew word and means, as Matthew tel, "s us, “God "with us” (Matt. 1:23). Though this does not appear Jesus Jesus’ name that he is known by throughout his life. It is, however, a very significant name that highlights an essential aspect of his iden, Jesus'
Jesus’ identity as God With Us takes us back to the very beginning of the biblical story. When Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they are kicked out of the garden. Essentially, they are kicked out of where God walks with them. In other words, their relationship with God is broken. God is not with them in the same way that he was. This is, in essence, the problem that the whole biblical story is trying to address. How can a holy God be with an unholy people? The biblical story's answer is Jesus, Immanuel, and God With Us.
The reference to this name comes from the prophet Isaiah who first foretold of virgin or young women conceiving and bearing a child. As the prophet says, this child will be named “Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). In Isaiah's" day, the kingdom of Judah was under threat. The promise God gives through the prophet of a child named Immanuel was meant to signify that God was with them and that he would deliver them from that threat. In other words, when it did not look like God was with Judah, God gave them a sign through the birth of a child that would show them that God was with them.
In Jesus' day, Judea was a Roman province ruled by the Empire, not by a Davidic king. In other words, it did not look like God was with the Jewish people. In that context, God comes and is true to his people in the person of Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us.
Today, the world is still reeling from a global pandemic, and we still see a nation as divided as ever. It does not look like God is with us. But then again, a baby in a manger is not how his people expected to see God with them. Central to the Christian faith is the belief that God is with us even when it does not look like it.
Our contemporary celebrations of Christmas often stray quite wide from the original celebration of the birth of Jesus, Immanuel, and God With Us. I can vaguely see how Santa Clause (St. Nicholas) is connected to Jesus' birth. I'm not sure how Frosty and Rudolph fit in. What snow has to do with Jesus' birth is beyond me! However, the thing that even our contemporary and kitschy celebrations of Christmas do get right is an emphasis on family and relationships. Jesus comes to offer us a reconciled relationship with himself. Because of that reconciliation, we can celebrate reconciled relationships with each other.
This Christmas, let us remember that the coming of Jesus signals not only salvation from our sins but salvation for our relationship with God.
Jesus is, after all, Immanuel, God with us. Both names are crucial for understanding the significance of this baby boy, whose birth we celebrate this Christmas.
If I can paraphrase Tiny Tim, this Christmas, let us exclaim, "God be with us, everyone!"
PLEASE PRAY WITH ME: O loving Father, on a glorious day, when the world pauses and acknowledges your gift of Jesus, all I can think is, "Thank you!" Then I am reminded again that all I have comes from Him because it is in His name, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, my Savior! I pray. AMEN.
GOD BLESS YOU, AND HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Written by — Benjamin Johnson, an associate professor of Biblical Studies and the director of the Honors College at LeTourneau University.