Growing up, one of my favorite holiday traditions was gathering as a family in the days leading up to Christmas to read through our Adornaments book. Each night, after listening to my mom read one of the meditations on a name for Jesus, my brother or I would ceremoniously hang the corresponding ornament on our small Jesus tree. By Christmas morning, each limb of the tree was adorned with an image that pointed us beyond the what of Christmas to the Who at its center.
This past week in our family group text, my parents, Austin, and I were reminiscing about this tradition (which my mom and dad have upheld to this day) and reflecting on our personal favorite names for Jesus. Each name embodies an aspect of Christ’s character, so I’ve resonated more personally with various names at different seasons. In times of spiritual dryness, I am thankful that He is our Living Water. When the world feels dark and uncertain, I’m grateful that He is our Everlasting Light. When authority figures have let me down, I treasure His sovereignty as the King of Kings, and when I struggle to reconcile power vs meekness, or justice vs grace, I embrace Jesus who is at once the powerful Lion and the sacrificial Lamb.
This year, as I prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, it is the name of Immanuel that has been speaking into my heart. Immanuel means God With Us, and this name reflects the spiritual truth that God yearns to be with us, His people. He created us for relationship with Him, and when sin disrupted our unity, He demonstrated His longing for us by taking on human form. He humbly relinquished His brilliance, giving up His heavenly post to dwell among mere mortals. This coming that was prophesied for generations was fulfilled, and in His birth, humanity saw its hope restored when idea of salvation transitioned to embodied reality. Cerebral expectation became physical presence.
Our Immanuel eventually gave Himself to the most brutal death imaginable, but before that He lived—talking, laughing, eating, sleeping, weeping, thinking and feeling as every human does. For the Creator of the Universe to take on such a humble existence, setting aside heavenly glory to become one of us with all our frailties and limitations . . . it astounds me. In the virtual world we find ourselves in so often these days, the notion of an embodied Christ seems so subversive, so unexpected, so precious.
It has been said that we are living in the loneliest period in history. We are more “connected” than ever before, but our hearts languish in isolation, aching to bridge the gap between our felt dearth of connection and the intimate bonds for which our souls were designed. Human relationships may help to fill this void, but it is only Jesus, Immanuel—God WITH us—who can fully satisfy our craving for connection.
In taking on human form, Immanuel demonstrated with pristine clarity that He will not withhold His presence from Us. Scott Erickson comments on this reality in his book Honest Advent, asking, “What does it say about a God. . . who’s willing to be fearfully and wonderfully made, just like we are? . . . What it says about a God who’s willing to be this vulnerable is that God is willing to open Itself up to deeply connect with us.”
A beloved carol of the season beseeches our Lord, our Immanuel, to come and ransom His people from exile and Satan’s tyranny. At Christmas, we await our ultimate salvation while also celebrating that He has come, dispersing the gloom of isolation and enveloping us in His with-ness. To quote Scott Erickson once again, we honor Christmas by rejoicing in “the arrival of God-with-Us in all the expected unexpected realities of our human lives.”
Jesus, Our Immanuel, God With Us . . . we are grateful for the most unexpected and undeserved gift of your presence. Thank you for drawing near to us, and for drawing us ever closer to you. We invite you into our hearts this Christmas.