In the Jewish culture and thought, naming something was not done casually. A name was much more than a word or a combination of sounds. The name was intended to convey the nature and the essence of the thing or the person being named. Thus Jesus was given the name Jesus “because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
And while His name is Jesus, the Scripture also says that people will call Him Immanuel.
See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
The name Jesus speaks to His mission. The name Immanuel speaks to His character. He is God with us.
He is God.
Christmas is safe in our culture, because a baby in a manger in a barn surrounded by animals feels safe. People can tolerate a baby. People can gawk and enjoy a baby. A baby won’t stand up and demand your life. But Jesus isn’t merely a baby in a manger. He was and is God (see Col. 1:19).
He isn’t a baby to gawk over; He’s the Lord to bow before. He’s not a cute figurine on our Christmas trees; He’s the Creator of all things. He’s not merely a cute baby in a manger. He orchestrated and designed the events to place Himself in a manger, and to ultimately place Himself on a cross.
He is with us.
In the Jewish culture, the people had such a holy and reverent respect for God that they wouldn’t even write the proper name of God (Yahweh) in full. Even today, Jews will write the name God or Lord and leave the vowels out of His name. The people held a view of God that He was far above and beyond them. He was holy, but He was also understood to be distant and unapproachable.
But He is now Immanuel. He is God with us. The Messiah was given a common name–Jesus, much like a Dave or John in today’s culture. The name Jesus was a name that most people had written at some point in their lives. They had brothers or uncles or fathers or friends named Jesus. The God who was perceived as being unapproachable came near, so near that He chose a name everyone knew, a name everyone had spoken. He was born into an ordinary family with a regular trade. He is with us. He became one of us.
He experienced suffering as we do. He knows what it’s like to be rejected by a close friend, as one of His closest friends, Judas, betrayed Him. He understands the pain of disappointing family and friends, as His own family didn’t grasp what He was doing. He knows the struggle of temptation, as Satan tempted Him with the lure of power and riches. He lived with uncertainty, as the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. He understands agony and pain. He has been there. He has done that. He is with us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)