The word Immanuel gets banded around a lot at this time of year due to one of the most startling Messianic prophecies there is:
Therefore Adonai Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive. When she is giving birth to a son, she will call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Immanuel, Emmanuel, Emanuel – like Hanukkah, there are several ways to spell it in English, but in Hebrew it is two words: עִמָּנוּ אֵל – with-us God, or God with us.
This promise to come and be with us does not just suddenly appear in Isaiah 7 – God’s intention to come and live among us is transcribed all throughout Scripture. He’s thought this through and planned His visit very well.
The temporary tent of meeting
Back in the Garden of Eden, God and Adam walked together in the cool of the day. The close fellowship God once had with humanity is something His heart longs for and grieved for when it was lost. God’s love for us and desire to be with us is seen in action as He creates an environment in which sin can be dealt with and fellowship restored:
I will set My Tabernacle among you, and My soul will not abhor you. I will walk among you and will be your God, and you will be My people. (Leviticus 26:11-12)
We see God literally pitching up His tent right in the middle of the camps of Israel, with a fully functioning sin-disposal system in order that He can be among them. He walks with them, accompanying them with a pillar of cloud and fire, and makes His desire for closeness and connection abundantly clear.
But even more than a temporary tent, God had a greater plan:
“‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will live among you’—it is a declaration of Adonai. In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.’ Then you will know that the LORD of Hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)
This remarkable prophecy is spoken by the LORD, but read it again carefully…
He says that the LORD sent Him.
God will come and live among us, and yet He is sent by the LORD! Hey?
It happens again in Isaiah:
Draw near to Me, hear this:
Since the beginning, I have not spoken in secret.
From the time it existed, I was there.
So now Adonai Elohim has sent Me,
and His Spirit.” (Isaiah 48:16)
This plan that God would send God to live among us has been in place since the dawn of time. The Eternal One who was there since the beginning has been sent by the LORD, and His Spirit. How about that.
This time, it was personal. No longer mere meaningful symbols and prophetic accoutrements in a purpose-built temple – God Himself was coming for a visit. And he was sent by God.
A Royal visitor in disguise
I heard a story while I was in Jordan that the King received reports of welfare officials mistreating their clients. The king, so the story goes, disguised himself as an elderly man in need, and approached clerks at different offices asking for help and services. Whenever he came across an official who was rude, disrespectful or unkind, he took them aside and revealed his true identity. He explained what they had done wrong and fired them on the spot. Needless to say, the services improved considerably after they understood that they might be serving the king!
At first they were not expecting the king to show up in such a humble manner. Neither did Israel, by and large, recognise the time of their visitation.
The King of kings was right there, among them in their midst, but in disguise. He looked like an ordinary Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. I heard a young child say that Jesus was “God with skin on”, and that’s a pretty good summary of the incarnation.
The idea of a virgin giving birth is so shocking that Jewish people understandably balk at the idea that it could mean what it says (as do far too many of those who call themselves Christians, to their shame). But then, God is not known for avoiding the outrageous. He dares people to believe. It stands to reason that He can do the impossible – He can do anything He likes. It also stands to reason that the God who created the universe would not arrive in amongst His creation in an entirely ordinary way. Even the Jewish Sages had a saying, “The redeemer whom I shall raise up from among you, will have no father” (Genesis Rabbah of Rabbi Moshe haDarshan).
God was made manifest, which is what glory is all about. God’s glory came to us in the Messiah, in the person of Jesus, full of grace and truth because he is God himself.
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. (John 1:14)
Immanuel: Together again at last
God’s great plan to visit was in order to pave the way for unending togetherness. He dealt with sin once and for all, so that anyone who wanted could be cleansed of the sin that separates and restored in relationship with Him.
It’s hard to imagine what it will be like when we are truly WITH GOD forever. I know that God is looking forward to it with great joy.
“Behold, the dwelling of God is among men,
and He shall tabernacle among them.
They shall be His people,
and God Himself shall be among them
and be their God.
He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more.
Nor shall there be mourning or crying or pain any longer,
for the former things have passed away.”
Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash