“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us.” (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14 ESV)
Names in the Bible are important. Parents in both the Old and New Testament would often give their children names that carried special significance. The child’s name wasn’t just something that “sounded cool” (though a lot of Hebrew names do sound pretty cool!). That wasn’t the point. The name of a believing son or daughter of the Most High God was supposed to express a lifelong confession, a prayer or a hope from God himself.
Thus Matthew reminds us of how seven hundred years before his time, Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and they would call his name “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”
Most people today are not shocked when they hear the good news that “God is with us,” because they take that as a given. The thinking goes like this, “Well, of course God is with me! I’m a pretty awesome person. I do some great things. Everyone should be with me. Why wouldn’t God be with me?” In our arrogance, we falsely assume that “God with us” means “God agrees with us.” In other words, whatever I think I need to do to make myself happy must be OK with God, because God is with me!
Empty is the head and shallow is the soul that makes such an assumption! All over the Bible we see that God should really be against us because of how we’ve behaved. We have broken all his commandments. We daily sin against his will and make selfish choices that hurt others and blaspheme his name. God has every reason to be against us and let us bear the consequences of our fall. But the good news of Christmas is that God is on our side! He made our loss his loss. He descended into this world to live among us, suffer for us, and bear all the consequences of our sins with his atoning death on the cross! All this happened through the work of the eternal Son of God who chose to be born as Mary’s Son. You probably did not grow up calling this man Immanuel. You know him by a different name, a name that sounds sweet to the believer’s ear, because it carries such deep meaning. “He will be called Jesus (Hebrew: He saves!) because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
May we never take such saving love for granted and may we always be shocked and surprised at Christmas by how far God was willing to go to win us back!