“And you shall call His name Jesus… And you shall give Him the name Immanuel” (Matt. 1:21,23).
The Child, whose birth we commemorate coming Monday has, of course, more than two names. Indeed, many are the names which prophets and evangelists have called Him. Names full of substance, full of rich, deep meaning.
But the two names mentioned in the above Scripture text speak to us in a very special way.
For we are sinners.
And we have to fight.
Jesus is the name by which sinners are comforted.
Immanuel is the name by which fighters are strengthened.
These names were not invented by men, but by God himself. For the names by which the Saviour may be known among men must not simply be names without any meaning, as our names often are. But they are names that make us know the Son of God as He is.
There lies a Child in a manger. And the mother, resting peacefully and happily after giving birth, says softly: Jesus, my dear child Jesus. And the man standing nearby, and who may officially be ‘father’, also says: Jesus. He shall be called Jesus, Mary.
For the angel had come to Joseph when he was in great difficulties. That faithful man had been deeply troubled when he noticed that Mary was pregnant with a child of whom he was not the father.
He could not of himself reach the thought, which can only be grasped by faith, that God is the Father of the Child; that the Holy Spirit has taken the place which the father otherwise takes in the begetting of his children. And so, in that Christmas night, came the fulfilment of the words: and she shall bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus; for He will save His people from their sins.
Jesus, this name means: The LORD is salvation, redemption, deliverance.
Actually, it literally means: the LORD makes room. He makes it so that you are transferred from a stifling, stench-filled, sunless slum, into a wide land, with endless sky and vast distances, a dazzling place where the air is so pure that you become a different person.
That is the glory of Christmas, that is the feast of the born Jesus.
This was the angel’s message of joy to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day the Saviour.”
The shepherds needed Him. The world needs Him. Without Him we cannot do anything following the fall in paradise.
There is only one message that can still save the world today. The world with its many unfulfilled ideals, the world with its many sufferings, the world with its hospitals, prisons and institutions. This message, that there is a Saviour.
This message must be believed.
And in such a way that you see His redemption in its full, deep richness.
Jesus does not deliver from something that is annoying, from a hardship that is troublesome to you.
He does not just cut off an outgrowth of sin. No, He eradicates sin itself. He conquers Satan in person. He cuts out the cause of all the misery that exists, the sin from which arises everything that makes life joyless.
And now the Christmas story, which is all gospel, says that everyone who knows his sin, and also knows himself to be guilty of all the world’s misery, may come with his sins to the feast of Christmas and to the Christmas child, because that child is called Jesus.
He will save his people from their sins.
Yet there is also another name mentioned in the Scripture that we’re paying attention to here.
We will soon celebrate the feast of the Child with the two names.
That other name is Emmanuel or Immanuel.
For when Christmas has come, when the Child lies in the manger, the prophecy of the Old Testament is fulfilled: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel, which is, translated, God with us.
In the time of Isaiah, the birth of the child of the maiden was a sign. A sign to the king of the house of Judah that the LORD would be near to His people.
When this child, the prophet says, is only a few years old, the hostile armies will have become two smouldering stubs of firewood.
But here, at Christmas, there is the sign’s fulfillment.
Here, at Christmas, is a Child who can only be known by true faith.
Here is a Child who can be called Immanuel in the true, full sense: Immanuel, God with us!
For here, in this Child, is God in the flesh. Here is the Son of God, laid in a manger. Here is the miracle of all ages, which gives all the warriors of faith on earth the strength to persevere until the victory is obtained. This miracle: that it is really, really true that Jesus is also called Immanuel, so that in the midst of my struggle, in the midst of my trouble, I may in faith boast: This I know, that God is with me. And if God is for us, who can be against us?
Immanuel, that means that the vast distance between God and us, between the holy God and the sinful creature, is removed. It means that there is an answer to the fearful question: Lord, where to then? This answer: To You alone we flee, for You will not cast us out.
Your own Son has again opened the way to Your throne for us.
Immanuel. This means that I can continue my struggle without despair, and that there is a future for me, a future of pure joy. For Jesus is my consolation. He is my song and my psalm. And Immanuel is my strength. For God is no longer the infinitely distant one, who can only look at me with justified wrath because of my sins. Instead, He is my Father, who sustains me when I falter, who carries me when I fall.
Immanuel, that is the strength of the fighter, who, following the Lord, fights the good fight of faith.
Let there be a celebration in your soul because of the Child with the two names: Jesus – Immanuel!
Behold, I bring you great joy that the Savior has been born to you this day.
Jesus, Jesus, to Your name be the glory!
Behold, the virgin has given birth to a Son, and His name is: Immanuel, God with us!
Then let the bells ring! Because it’s Christmas!
Christmas for sinners. Behold, here is your consolation!
Christmas for the fighters, who in this life never finish fighting but must always offer strong resistance. Look, here is your strength!
So then, believe in the Christmas Child with the two names: Jesus – Immanuel!
This meditation was written by Rev. D. Vreugdenhil (1909-2003) and previously published in: Gereformeerd Kerkblad voor Overijsel en Gelderland (2e Volume No. 25, 24 December 1949) and republished in Semper Reformanda December 2023. Translated from Dutch by Jelte Numan.