Christmas – and the meaning of Christianity itself – can be summed up in two names.
The first is “Immanuel,” which translates from Hebrew to “God with us.” It comes from a prophecy written approximately 700BC about the future Messiah
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” — Isaiah 7:14
Of this same miraculously conceived child the same prophet writes about other things this same child would be called in addition to “Immanuel”:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” — Isaiah 9:6
I often marvel over the bickering of unbelief over whether the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 should really be translated “virgin” given what is said about this same child in Isaiah 9:6. How ELSE would one expect this child, this son who would be born, who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace to be conceived other than by miraculous supernatural means? Seriously?
What does “God with us” mean?
It means that this child – rightly called “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14 and “Mighty God” in Isaiah 9:6, would literally be God come to be with mankind in some powerful way.
It is a beautiful reference to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the unique, One-and-Only Son of the Living God. Isaiah prophesied that some day in the future, God would somehow take a human nature and be born as a child, as a son. It was a prophecy of the coming birth of One who would one day call Himself “the Son of Man” (e.g. Mark 10:45).
The other name that completes the meaning of Christmas and Christianity is “Jesus.” It comes from the Hebrew name “Yeshua” (or “Joshua”) which means, “Jehovah is Savior.”
Two things emerge from this name: the first is that God Himself would one day come to personally save and deliver mankind from the bondage and death sentence of sin; the second is that One particular bearer of that name would be Himself God on earth.
The same Book of Isaiah that we have been discussing amply attests of our Lord Jesus Christ taking upon Himself the name both of “Jehovah” and “Savior.”
Isaiah 43:11 makes it most clear:
“I, even I, am the LORD [i.e., Jehovah], and apart from Me there is no Savior.” — Isaiah 43:11
See also Isaiah 45:21 to see that this is no fluke description from the prophet who described the coming of “Immanuel” who would be “Mighty God”:
Declare what is to be, present it–let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD [i.e., Jehovah]? And there is no God apart from Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but Me.” — Isaiah 45:21
But as we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the One of whom the angel proclaimed:
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”
The mystery of Jesus, of this Savior who would be born in spite of the fact that only JEHOVAH could be called “Savior,” is given a little clarity in the first words of the Book of John as it identifies Jesus Christ as “the Word”:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being which has come into being.” — John 1:1-3
When St. John says, “In the beginning was the Word,” it is a direct reference of Genesis 1:1, which begins, “In the beginning God…”
When St. John says, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” he is pointing out that while the Word, Jesus, is divine (i.e., is God), He is not God in the logically exclusive sense that the Father and the Spirit are not also God. Jesus is God (the Son), and Jesus was also with God (the Father and the Spirit).
When St. John tells us, “He was in the beginning with God,” we know that Jesus was NOT a created being. He could not have in any way, shape or form been created, because in fact He always existed; He was with God the Father from the very beginning.
If this wasn’t clear enough already, St. John further elaborates on the eternality of Jesus Christ when he says, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being which has come into being.” All things came into being by Jesus Christ. God the Son was the Creator Moses describes in Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”). Not only that, but “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Which is to say that this Son of God, the Word - who would one day become Incarnate under the name of Jesus who was born of a virgin in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 – created every single thing which has EVER been created or come into existence. It is a logical impossibility that the One who created ALL things could Himself have been in any way created.
A short poem sums it up more simply and more concisely that I ever could:
“He came to die on a cross of wood, yet made the hill on which it stood.”
He was truly God.
But He was truly God become man.
God the Son added to Himself – added to His eternal divine nature - a human nature in the Incarnation. God became man. And 700 years before it happened, He revealed it to His prophet Isaiah.
One verse from the first chapter of the first Book of the Bible becomes significant in understanding this:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” — Genesis 1:27
In Genesis the Son of God, the Word, created man in His divine image; in the Incarnation, that same Son of God assumed the image He had created. Which is to say that God made man in such a way that He could one day become man Himself.
In the most remarkable act of other-centered love in the history of the universe, Christ the Son of God did the following as recorded in Philippians 2:5-11:
“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” — Philippians 2:5-11, (NLT)
In verse 7 of that marvellous passage in the original Greek language we have the word “kenosis” occur. It means, “emptied”: “He emptied Himself.”
In becoming a man, God had to temporarily let go of attributes of deity that belonged to Him by very right of His divine nature. He entered into time, which means He had to divest Himself of His eternality while on earth so He could age and grow and die. He set aside His omniscience so He would experience living as a man, depending on faith just like any other man before or after Him. He laid aside His omnipotence, such that He could experience the helplessness and fatigue that all men feel. And so on.
Jesus was completely dependent upon His Father and upon the Spirit for all things, because He had made Himself weak in the Incarnation in order to fully experience human frailty. He had to walk by faith and live by the power of faith, just as we do.
We can imagine the One who created the Cosmos – and in whom all things literally hold together (Colossians 1:17) – emerge from Mary’s womb that first Christmas as a tiny, helpless baby, struggling just to open His eyes. He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52) because He had made Himself a man in every way that it was essential to be a man.
It makes me weep to think about what Jesus laid aside so He could come to live with mankind as a man. Think of the choice of God to do that! We all want to become great and mighty and awesome and have all the status that accompanies our greatness; Jesus radically went the other way and took a plunge from all the glorious majesty of heaven to a trough that farm animals ate out of.
And the obvious question is, why did He do this?
He did it to take the blame that rightly belonged to me, to live and then die in my place.
He did it to be my Savior, because He as God knew that I, a miserable sinner, desperately needed saving.
In the Incarnation, Jesus lived a perfect life in our place because we could never hope to live such lives. And then, as the perfect God-Man, He gave His life to take the death sentence earned by OUR sins upon Himself, so that we would not have to experience eternal death the way that all sinners apart from His grace will one day experience.
This mighty act of salvation was God-sized; no mere man could even attain his own salvation, let alone that of the entire human race. And yet just as sin entered the world through a man, only a man acting as a true representative of man could deliver us from that sin.
Enter the God-Man. Enter Jesus.
Jesus explained His mission to a Jewish Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus in the most beautiful and powerful words ever spoken:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” — John 3:16
Isaiah 64:6 says,
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
Isaiah 53:6 says,
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” — Isaiah 53:6
On Christmas morning, a little over 2,000 years ago, in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), God came to save me from that from which I most needed saving: from myself; and from my sins which separated me from my Creator, my King and my God.
God is holy and righteous and perfect and sinless: He can not tolerate sin in His presence; nor can any sinner survive His presence. As a sinner, I deserved hell. And apart from the grace of God, hell is precisely where I would have gone.
Only there is a God who loved me, and gave Himself for me (see Galatians 2:2o; Ephesians 5:2; Titus 2:14) so that I could be alive in Him and share eternity with Him in His glorious presence forever and ever.
Thank you, Jesus. I bow down before You and thank You with all of my soul that You alone had the power to save. I desperately needed a Savior, and You came to save me.
I pray that you, too, bow down before Jesus your King and thank Him from the bottom of a saved, delivered soul this Christmas day.