December 23, 2021

What Does The Word Immanuel Mean?

The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father.  John 1:14

When the Communists took over in China in 1949, two missionaries were left behind–Rudolph Bosshardt and Arnolis Hayman.  The two were arrested and thrown into prison.  Days turned into weeks and weeks into months.  China is a vast country, approximately the same size as the United States (about 4,000 miles from east to west and 2,000 miles from north to south), but what many do not realize is that in the northern part of China it gets very cold as the Siberian winds come whistling from the north.

As the months began to drag by, the two soon realized that they would spend Christmas alone and without their families.  Forbidden to speak to each other, the two men sat in the cold, unheated prison cell as Christmas day dawned.  Shivering from the cold, their thoughts were filled with memories of past Christmases, the warmth of families together, to say nothing of thoughts of Christmas dinner, which would not be their good fortune on that Christmas.

As they sat there, a feeling of hopelessness seemed to settle over them.  Arnolis reached down and began playing with pieces of straw on the prison floor. He began making letters–IMMANUEL.  The two looked at it‑‑’IMMANUEL,” one of the names given to Christ meaning, “God is with us!”  And gradually, by their own statement, the reality of what Arnolis had just written began to sink in‑‑GOD IS WITH US.  The gloom of a prison was driven back, and the reality of what Christmas really is sank in.

Seven centuries before Jesus was born, the Lord gave a sign to Ahaz, saying, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  Matthew 1:23 quotes the passage from Isaiah, citing the birth of Jesus as fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.  But what does it all mean in our world‑‑the world of supersonic jets, miracle fabrics, credit card‑sized calculators, and computers?  When the Apostle John took pen and parchment to record the birth of Jesus, he wrote, “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father” (John 1:14).  Theologians have called it “the Incarnation,” but it simply means God became flesh and lived among us.

Watching the world with its misery and conflict, we desperately need to discover the meaning of the Incarnation.  Like Bosshardt and Hayman, many today are imprisoned; but instead of the steel bars of a jail, they are captured by human suffering, the guilt of a troubled conscience, their inadequacies and failures.  Bound by ignorance, fear, superstition or just plain sin, they feel that no one cares, no one understands.  The Incarnation means that God understands and cares.

On one occasion, a Christian was sharing his faith with a Hindu who just could not grasp the fact that God became man.  As the two were talking, the Christian looked down and noticed an ant crawling on the sidewalk.  Stooping over he said, “Suppose that I could compress myself to the size of an ant and could put aside my human strength and could live in the body of an ant.  Only then could I really understand an ant’s world, and that is exactly what Jesus did.”  “Yes,” replied the Hindu, “to understand, one must be one.”  Yes, the Word, Jesus Christ, became flesh and dwelt among us.


Resource reading: Matthew 1:18-25