O Emmanuel: Christmas in the Garden of Eden

Reading Time: 4 mins

On each of the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve (December 17-23), Chad Bird will provide a meditation that focuses on the ancient “O Antiphons,” each of which addresses Christ by a different Old Testament name. Today’s reflection, the last of this series, is on “O Emmanuel.”

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Garden of Eden. The Lord of heaven had kneeled on the earth, scooped up a handful of soil, and exhaled the Spirit’s life into the first human being. Later, he tucked lonely Adam into a nice long nap, performed the first surgery, and built a woman from the man’s side to be his ideal mate.

Man and woman, woman and man, both “worded” into being by the God who said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). This wasn’t the Lord talking to his angelic council or the so-called “royal we.” No, this was the Father speaking to his Son and Spirit—a trinitarian conversation—saying, “Let’s do this.” And so they did.

As we watch the Creator fashion Adam and Eve in his image, after his likeness, what exactly are we seeing take place? We are watching the Father make humanity in the image of his Son. Christ “is the image of God” (2. Cor. 4:4), “the image of the invisible God,” (Col. 1:15), “the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3).

Notice: there’s an “is” and an “in.”
Christ is the image of God.
Humanity is made in that image.

God’s creation of humanity, therefore, is also a revelation of him. Adam and Eve mirror the Word of the Father, in whom and by whom they were made. Is it any surprise, then, that as we read the rest of the Scriptures, God is pictured in strikingly human ways: with a face, hands, feet, mouth, ears, and heart? We label these anthropomorphisms, that is, the attribution of human-like characteristics to God. It would be more fitting to call humanity’s God-like actions theomorphisms. We imitate him, not he us.

The main point is this: the creation of humanity is a prophecy of the incarnation. He who would become human, as he is forming Adam and Eve, looks over at us, smiles, and gives us a wink. “The day will come,” he suggests, “when I will become one of you.”

Dress Rehearsals of the Incarnation

The rest of the Old Testament prepares us for this incarnation, first glimpsed in Eden. In story after story, God stuck close to humanity in very human-like ways. He strolled in Eden (Genesis 3). He broke bread with Abraham (Genesis 18). He rolled in a wrestling match with Jacob (Genesis 32). He appeared so ordinarily human to Gideon, as well as to Manoah and his wife, that they initially thought he was just a regular Joe Israelite (Judges 6 and 13).

All of these were Christophanies (i.e., appearances of Christ) before he was conceived and born among us. As Christians in the Scottish Highlands used to say to David Murray, “Christ enjoyed trying on the clothes of His incarnation.”

Isaiah tells us, however, that one day these “dress rehearsals” would cease and reality would come. A pregnant virgin would bear in her womb a son whose name will be Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14).

We Have a Human God

Today, December 23, as we sing the seventh and final of the O Antiphons, we address our prayer to this son of Mary:

“O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God” (LSB #357).

Emmanuel is two words in Hebrew, Immanu (“with us”) and El (“God”). This child is the “with-us-God” or, as we say in better English, “God with us.”

Ages before this God-with-us boy was born, he was already with his people, but not in a flesh-and-blood sort of way. He told the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob, “I am with you” (Gen. 26:24; 28:15). Before he sent Moses into Egypt, he said from the burning bush, “I will be with you” (Exod. 3:12). He repeated this promise to Joshua (Deut. 31:23), Gideon (Judg. 6:16), Solomon (1 Kings 11:38), Jeremiah (1:8), and all Israel (Isa. 43:2).

It’s one thing for God to be with us as God, but it’s on a whole different level for God to be with us as a fellow human being who spent forty weeks in utero, learned how to crawl then walk, suffered through puberty, and eventually faced the firing squad of Roman crucifiers. We have that God.

And that human God, Jesus of Nazareth, is also our king and Lord. Just consider what that means. Having friends is good. They can be there for us, in good times and bad times. We can lean on them and seek their advice. But our regular friends, well, they have their limitations. They have their own problems, of course, and their own lives, so they can’t be there for us 24/7. Nor can they, if necessary, move heaven and earth to do something for us.

Our flesh-and-blood God can. He is king. He is Lord. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. And all that authority he exercises for us, his friends, his brothers, his sisters, at whose side he always sticks close.

Just imagine if you had the phone number of the most powerful person in the world, could call or text him anytime, ask him to help you, no matter what, and he would do it in a heartbeat. What we have in Jesus makes that seem like child’s play. He is the creator of heaven and earth. He is king of all nations. He is Lord of all.

Most importantly, he is your Emmanuel, the God with you and the God for you.

Before the words “come and save us” leave our lips, before we draw the breath to speak them, even before we know we need to say them, he preemptively answers our prayer (Isa. 65:24). He is simply overjoyed to do anything and everything to save us, show us mercy, and demonstrate that he is the God of love.

Friends, we have a God who knows intimately what it is to feel a heart breaking, hot tears running down his cheeks, and blood flowing from gaping wounds. He knows what it’s like to be both loved and hated, as well as betrayed. There is no human emotion foreign to his experience. There is no human need that he has not felt pressing into his soul.

Jesus is our fully divine and fully human God. The image-maker made into the image. The creator become creature.

If you’ve ever wondered just how far the Lord of heaven and earth would go to make sure you were his own, peer down into the manger and look up onto the cross. There’s your answer.

O Wisdom,
O Adonai,
O Root of Jesse,
O Key of David,
O Dayspring,
O King of the nations,
O Emmanuel, come and save us, O Lord our God.