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  • Jim Etherton

Why is Jesus sometimes called Immanuel?

No serious historian would doubt that Jesus lived as a man about 2,000 years ago. Even those who are sceptical about the Bible can find evidence for his existence in the writings of Jewish and Roman historians who were not Christians. The question is not whether he lived as a man but whether he was more than just a man.

At Christmas we remember Jesus’ birth. Only two of the four Gospels tell us anything about this. Matthew gives us Joseph’s viewpoint while Luke relates Mary’s side of the events. Both accounts – one handed down from each of Jesus’ earthly parents – emphasise the supernatural events surrounding the conception and birth. Both make it clear that Jesus was special, born in fulfilment of prophecies about a chosen one who would save His people.

“… and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)

The idea that God could become a man and live on earth among ordinary men and women is difficult to grasp. For many it is simply unbelievable. But Christian testimony down the ages is that our God is not a distant God – He wants to be in close relationship with His people. Those of us who know Him by His Spirit today know that it is characteristic of God to be with people rather than remaining aloof from them. That does not mean that we can completely understand how God could be so fully in Jesus that He was both fully human and fully God – but it means that we accept it as one of those truths which is beyond our full comprehension.

In the Carol, ‘Hark! The herald-angels sing’ Charles Wesley puts it like this:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see! Hail, the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.

As you hear or sing those words this Christmas think for a moment about how amazing it is that God wants to be so closely involved in this troubled world that Jesus is called ‘Immanuel’ which means God with us.

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