To Coin the Phrase – Part 1 – Immanuel

You’ve heard “Immanuel,” but what does it mean?

To Coin the Phrase is a series I’ll be sharing for the next 3 Thursdays. Take “Immanuel” for instance, which pops up around this time every year. It must have something to do with Christ’s birth…but what? Keep reading to find out “what Immanuel means and where it comes from.

Hurricane Opel was bearing down off Alabama’s coast in 1995 and was working its way towards where I lived in the middle of the State. As typical of people preparing for a storm, I made a last-minute trip to the local grocery store. Getting out of my car, I noticed a tiny kitten underneath a parked vehicle. I distinctly recall thinking the kitten must have been the runt of the litter due to its small size. Either way, with an impending storm approaching, there was precious little time to coax this kitty into safety.

Of course, when I kneeled on one side of the car, reaching for the kitten, it quickly ran to the other, after no less than ten attempts. Exasperated, I ran into the grocery to buy some kitten chow. By this time, the outer bands of Opel’s rain and wind had arrived, soaking the kitty leaving it shivering and cold. Not even food worked since it came from the hand of a larger and strange species like me.

Here I am some 26 years later, and as crazy as it sounds, I still recall the awful feeling of trying to help that little creature only to keep scaring it away. Looking back, only another kitten, or even a cat, could have led the kitten out of the storm. Anyone else, or anything else, would only have furthered frightened it.

In many Old Testament instances where God appeared, humanity reacted much like that kitten. Like when The Lord met with the Israelites at Mount Sinai: “where thunder roared and lightning flashed…so that all the people in the camp trembled.” (Ex. 19:16) Or the time Isaiah saw God “sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted…when the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out!” Isaiah’s response? “Woe is me, for I am coming undone!”  

But then everything changed in the New Testament. Not only was “God with us” (which is “Immanuel”), but He became One of us to rescue us from life’s impending storms. Jesus not only “emptied Himself” of all the splendors of Heaven, but took on flesh and blood “in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)

So now that you’ve heard “Immanuel,” what does it mean?

  • Immanuel means God took on human form so we might see His glory “displayed in Christ’s face.” (2nd Cor. 4:6)


  • Immanuel means, though the storm may rage around us, we take comfort in God’s human voice: “Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!” (Mt. 14:27)


  • Immanuel means, sometimes the Lord calms the storm. But sometimes He lets the storm rage and comforts His child.


  • Immanuel means, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (Jn. 16:33)

In Philip Yancey’s observation, “As I read the birth stories about Jesus, I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.”

Which I guess is why that image of a runt kitty left to fend for itself amid a looming storm has always stood out. It pretty much reminds me of me, and my desperate need of being rescued, not only way back when, but probably more so even now. For that, I’m thankful that God is among us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful Savior indeed is He!

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *