In Hebrew, the word “immanu” means “with us.” The word “El” means “God.” Emmanuel, then, combines those two words — immanu and El — to mean “God with us.”
Long before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah said:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel.” (Matthew 1:20-23 — see Isaiah 7:14)
Emmanuel — God with us — one of the many names that the Bible gives to the Messiah — to Jesus.
The hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” highlights that name of Jesus and invites him to come and ransom captive Israel. Israel knew what it meant to be enslaved, and they wanted God to redeem them.
We have not been in slavery, but we do know what it means to feel trapped — to be caught between a rock and a hard place — to need help and to need it desperately. When we find ourselves in that situation, we need to pray the prayer of this hymn, “O Come, O come Emmanuel” — and ransom us — save us — redeem us — make us whole.
Christ has saved us. Christ is saving us now. Christ will be our salvation throughout eternity. He has already answered our prayer — and is answering our prayer — and will answer us when we pray, “O Come, O come Emmanuel” — and ransom us — save us — redeem us — make us whole.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan