An image of a Christmas tree ornament reading, In Christ alone my hope is found.

The name “Immanuel” (im-ma-nu-AIL) appears twice in the Hebrew Scriptures and once in the New Testament. It first appears in Isaiah 7:14 as part of a prophetic word that Isaiah spoke to King Ahaz of Judah (the southern kingdom) at a time when Syria and Israel (the northern kingdom) had formed a coalition against Assyria.

The prophet Isaiah counseled Ahaz not to join in Israel’s uprising against Assyria, the region’s greatest power, assuring him it would not succeed. Instead, he urged Ahaz to trust in the Lord. Then he invited Ahaz to ask the Lord for a sign to confirm the prophetic word, but the unfaithful king refused. In response to Ahaz’s refusal to trust God, Isaiah proclaimed: “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of human beings? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Shortly after that Syria and Israel were soundly defeated, exactly as Isaiah had prophesied.

Matthew’s Gospel recalls Isaiah’s prophecy, applying it to the child who would be born of Mary, the virgin betrothed to Joseph. The sign given hundreds of years earlier to an apostate king was meant for all God’s people. One of the most comforting of all the names and titles of Jesus, it is literally translated “with us is God” or, as Matthew’s Gospel puts it, “God with us.” In fact the Bible is nothing if not the story of God’s persistent desire to dwell with his people. In Jesus, God would succeed in a unique way, becoming a man in order to save the world not from the outside, but from the inside. Immanuel, God with us, to rescue, redeem, and restore our relationship with him.

Praying to Immanuel

Every year Chuck Colson and his wife Patty deliver Christmas gifts to the children of imprisoned men and women. One year, as Chuck and his wife drove into a housing project to deliver the gifts, they saw all the evidence of despair—gang members lounging in doorways, broken windows, neglect. Making their way to one of the apartments, Chuck knocked on the door. He knew that the father of this family was spending Christmas in prison. A young boy opened the door.

“Merry Christmas” Colson said. “These are from your Daddy.” Immediately the door swung wide, revealing a scraggly Christmas tree propped against a wall empty of presents.

When Colson asked the boy his name, he replied, “Emmanuel.”

“Do you know what your name means?” Colson asked, opening his Bible and reading from Matthew’s Gospel: …and they will name him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.”

“Just then the boy’s mother returned home from work. Emmanuel threw his arms around her thighs, crying, ‘Mama, Mama, God is with us!’”

At that moment, the message of Christmas hit Colson anew.[1]

He saw a young boy’s eyes open a little wider to the wonder of God’s presence. Both the man and the boy seemed to sense God’s presence in that apartment, in that family, on that day.

Immanuel—God with us. Let us encounter him today as we do his work, for as Matthew’s Gospel says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (25:40).

[1] Chuck Colson, “God with Us,” https://breakpoint.org/breakpoint-god-us, November 24, 2009, accessed on November 22, 2021.




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