Christmas Eve Lesson #2: What does Emmanuel (or Immanuel) mean?

Christmas Eve Lesson #2: What does Emmanuel (or Immanuel) mean?

For the remaining lessons I’m going to introduce the songs we are about to sing. We are about to sing the Christmas Hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. This is a beautiful and powerful hymn with the chorus, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emman-u-el… shall come to thee, O Isra—el.” Now we’re not telling Emmanuel to rejoice but we’re telling God’s people to rejoice because God has come to them. The chorus itself makes a lot more sense if you know what the word “Emmanuel” means. 

The word Emmanuel appears in an Old Testament prophecy spoken 700 years before Christ’s birth. In fact, we actually have a hard copy of this prophecy that pre-dates the birth of Jesus—The Great Isaiah Scroll, which is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls dated at 125 BC.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (NIV®)

The Hebrew form of Immanuel is spelled with an “i” (עמּנוּ אל) and the Greek form is spelled with an “e” (Ἐμμανουήλ). What matters is not the spelling but who this verse is talking about—Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew actually quotes the prophet Isaiah after the angel appears to Joseph.

Matthew 1:22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (NIV®)

The word “Immanuel” is actually a compound word like “snowflake” which is made up of two words “snow” and “flake.” “Im-manu-el” is made up of three words:

“Im” = with
“manu” = us
“el” = God (shortened form of Elohim)

So “Im-manu-el” literally means “with us, God” or “God with us.” What the prophet Isaiah promised was that one day a virgin would give birth to a child who would literally be God with us. 700 years later Jesus fulfills that prophecy. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to the virgin Mary. 

Because the Holy Spirit (who is God) is Jesus’ biological father and Mary is Jesus’ biological mother, Jesus is actually both God and man. He’s not like Hercules or other Greek heroes who are part human and part God. Jesus is fully 100% totally God, but also fully 100% totally man. And just by his birth he is fulfilling that ancient Isaiah promise that one day God would come to humankind. 

So when we sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel realize we’re not just singing a nice Christmas song. We are singing that God has fulfilled his Isaiah promise through the birth of Jesus to come and dwell among humankind. Together, let’s sing that God has come in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

Pastor Jonathan wrote this homily for Cornerstone’s Lessons & Carols Christmas Eve Service.