When our children were little, Cheryl and I would enjoy watching the annual church Christmas pageant. Every year, the littlest ones would sing the beloved Christmas carol, “Away in the Manger.” In that moment of simple, childlike adoration, it was easy for us to see our Savior as a baby, nestled peacefully in an animal’s straw-filled feeding trough:
“Away in the manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
The Son of God was not born in a gilded palace but arrived in the dusty confines of our human existence. The birth of Jesus clearly reflects God’s desire to dwell with His creation: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The word dwell means to remain for a time or to live in a place. When we establish a dwelling, we are putting down stakes or setting up our home. A dwelling is where our lives happen, the place where we eat, sleep, love, and grow.
The name Immanuel, given to Jesus, reflects God’s desire to dwell with His people, both by existing on Earth in human form and by providing a way for us to remain in relationship with Him. Matthew’s Gospel explains, “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’” (1:22–23).
As we celebrate this Christmas, remember that God chose to dwell with you and me in an intimate and extraordinary way! And He continues to dwell within us through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit. As the apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).
The final verse to “Away in the Manger” was added after the original lyrics had been written. It says,
“Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray
Bless all the dear children in your tender care
And fit us for heaven, to live with you there.”
The birth of our Savior is a reminder that God loves us and dwells with us still. He is, indeed, our Immanuel.