The name EMMANUEL. I’ve heard it since I was a toddler in diapers. It always connects me to Christmas…but I don’t think I fully understood what it actually meant until this year.
Growing up in a Christian home was a huge blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m forever grateful for the family and heritage God has given me. In the same token, teething on certain Biblical concepts and truths has given me a challenge: I sometimes miss the deep meaning behind them. My “Christian-ese” has given me a disadvantage. Thankfully, God is creative in helping me understand simple truths.
Emmanuel = God with us.
This year, God asked me to LIVE it and see it with my own eyes. Now it holds gravity with my heart and it’s forever changed how I see the name EMMANUEL.
It started when I was ministering in prison this past October. As I’ve mentioned before, this was a completely new experience for me. One of the things that took me by surprise was how grateful the women were to us. They kept thanking us for coming and sharing with them.
The wording they used was almost always the same. They would say things like, “Thank you for coming and being with us.” “Thank you for humbling yourselves and being one of us.” “Thank you for proving to us that you don’t think you’re better than us.” “Thank you for being real. I can get you.”
The phrases they used seemed out-of-place. My friend and I had come to prison asking God to speak to US…and use us for His glory. We didn’t come to offer them anything but Jesus. Why did they keep thanking us for “being with them” and “becoming one of them”? It seemed strange.
Until the morning of the third day.
We were standing in the courtyard early that morning, waiting to be let in for morning set up. The sun was rising over the barbed wire, making for a broken kind of beautiful. The rays of sunlight made the wire sparkle and the colors made everything glow. It was still. Quiet. Peaceful.
Then His whisper. “This is what I did for you, Faith. I came and got into YOUR prison. I didn’t have to, I CHOSE to. I chose to become like you so I could show you the way to freedom.”
It was like a flash went through my brain. Emmanuel = God with us.
God with us meant Jesus wrapped Himself in human flesh…a prison of sorts for the Creator of the Universe. God with us meant Jesus had to know pain and sniffles and skinned knees and the harsh realities of life…so He could get close to us.
He loved me so much that He chose to get into my world…broken and strange as it is…and get on my level. He chose to limit himself so He would have a voice with me.
Suddenly, I realized why these women were so grateful. They had been visited by EMMANUEL. They couldn’t fathom why two young women from the free world would come and share life for a week with them. While we weren’t walking out this truth on purpose…I now saw what it meant to the women behind bars. I had once been in their place, and the awe of my Savior still overwhelms me.
The gravity of what Jesus did for me hits me like a ton of bricks. He loved me that much. The name EMMANUEL suddenly feels weighty and real. I can see it in full-color in front of me.
Christmas is a time of reflection for me and the name EMMANUEL is where I’ve been camping out this year. I’ve been mulling over John 1:1-14 for several weeks now and verse 14 has repeatedly stuck out in my mind. It now has dimension for me…like a drawing on paper transforming into 4D that I can reach out and touch.
Whenever I want to see a new perspective on a passage I’ve read over and over, I sometimes cross-references from other versions. I grew up on the King James Version which says…
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” KJV
That’s beautiful…but I don’t talk like that so I need some new vantage points. I started looking up the verse in a few other versions…I wanted to see EMMANUEL. What did some of these phrases mean?
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory of the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” NIV (New International Version)
“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.” TLV (Tree of Life Version)
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” MSG (Message)
“The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw his Sh’khinah, the Sh’khinah of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” CJB (Complete Jewish Bible)
I remember sitting back in my chair when I read these and my mouth dropping open. I shook my head in disbelief. Jesus—KING OF THE WORLD— lowering Himself, humbling Himself. The unlimited God limiting Himself so He could meet my deepest need. Salvation. Redemption.
Who does that? Who leaves behind the beauty and splendor of His glory (Sh’khinah) to pursue the fickle hearts of human beings like me? Why did He love me so much that He would choose to “move into my neighborhood”? That kind of love blows my mind.
He’s Emmanuel. God. With. Us.
God living on our street. God’s tabernacle in our front yard. God taking up residence with us. He wanted us that much. He wanted us to be whole and healed. So He chose to be with us, have a voice with us and rescue us from ourselves.
Emmanuel is Jesus getting into our prison with us so He can offer us the key to freedom and Eternal Life.
Emmanuel is Jesus loving us enough to wrap Himself in the skin of a helpless, naked baby…born to a poor teenage virgin girl who was blessed and highly favored. Emmanuel is Jesus choosing to grow up in a small, unknown town and be raised by an ordinary carpenter. Emmanuel is Jesus walking dusty streets and healing people with bum legs and blind eyes and demonic oppression. Emmanuel is Jesus loving the people He lived with enough to bleed, endure torture, and carry His cross up Calvary…ultimately dying for their sins (and MINE and YOURS!) in a cruel, painful way. Emmanuel is Jesus rising again, defeating death once and for all…for the people “in His neighborhood” He loved so well.
Tell me that doesn’t make your jaw drop! Come on, now! That leaves me awe-struck. Amazed. Grateful. I love the part in the old Charlie Brown movie where Charlie is getting all confused and overwhelmed with the commercialism and to-do-list of Christmas time. He asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Go ol’ Linus drops his blanket and decides to answer this question of all time by quoting Luke 2:8-14…“For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:11, KJV) When he’s done recounting the story he quips, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Few animated movies carry such powerful words. Emmanuel has come! Worship rises up in my heart…and it makes me want to Go, tell it on the mountain!
Here’s some more good news…It doesn’t stop there. He’s still Emmanuel. He is still living among us…His Spirit guiding and loving us and leading us to give HOPE to a dying world. We carry the hope of Jesus in our hearts…and are called to give it to those around us. The people in OUR neighborhood.
This Christmas, who does Jesus want you to give hope to? Give the gift of Emmanuel. Be with people. Listen to their stories. Love them through their pain and joys. Hear their hearts. Always…always give them Jesus. Give them Emmanuel.
God. With. Us.