His name is Jesus – Emmanuel – God-is-with-us

A Reflection by Fr. Kingsley for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A.
Isaiah 7:10-14 – Romans 1:1-7 – Matthew 1:18-24.

We are close to Christmas. The Child is very close – the mother is expectant, labour is imminent, the world is waiting and counting down in days, hours and minutes, anxiety is rising while joy is dawning – the joy of a new baby coming into the world.

How names may be chosen. When a baby is on the way, the name he/she is to have is given serious consideration. Some parents choose the name of their child based on the sound of the name, its meaning, the emotions of the parents, their religious affinity or the particular circumstances surrounding the child. When naming a child, we sense how important it is to associate him/her with something or someone that is meaningful to us.

In the Scriptures, most of the names people gave their children were based on the parents’ experiences, religious affinity and circumstances surrounding the child. Isaac was given the name which means “he will laugh / will rejoice” because the couple laughed when they were told in their old age that they would have a son (Gen 17:17; 18:12). Ichabod, which means “no glory”, was the name given to the son of Phinehas & grandson of Eli, because he was born when the Ark of God had been captured in battle and the glory of God was said to have left the people of God (1Sam 4:21). Samuel was given his name, which means “God has heard”, by his mother because God answered her prayers (1Sam 1:20). Samson was given his name, which means “Sun”, because he was a light to the childless home of his parents (Judges 13:1-24); later, he would be a light to the Israelites in their time of war and gloom.

How God gave people names. When God Himself gave an individual his name, it was either in view of his mission, or of his significance to his family, to his people and to the world. For example, God renamed Abram Abraham (‘father of multitude of nations’) because of the future He prepared for him (Gen 17:5). John, which means “Yahweh is gracious”, was given to John the Baptist by God because he was the announcer and forerunner of God’s graciousness – not just for his parents but for all mankind (Lk 1:13). These, and many other examples, can help us to understand the basis of the name by which the Messiah is known. In the first reading, the prophecy is that He will be named Emmanuel, meaning “God-is-with-us”. The name ‘Emmanuel’ is deliberately restated in the gospel reading after the angel told Joseph to call the baby Jesus (“God saves”).

Is there a contradiction here in the naming? There is not. Why not? Because the names identify the two natures in Christ. While ‘Emmanuel’ identifies the Messiah’s divinity, ‘Jesus’ identifies the Messiah’s humanity. The Child who will be born is God (Emmanuel/Immanuel) and the Saviour of mankind (Jesus). It is only God who is capable of saving humanity from our state of sin and decadence. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes the connection: “This news is about the Son of God who, according to the human nature he took, was a descendant of David: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead.” In other words, ‘Jesus’ and ‘Emmanuel’ are One-and-the-same Person – the God-man.

What is the circumstance and relevance of this naming of Our Lord? As mentioned earlier, circumstances can determine the name someone is given. In this instance the Child, who was promised by God to be born and given to us, is given the Name which comforts us because He is coming to save us as the Almighty One – as God.

In the first reading, Ahaz the king of Judah was facing a critical time in the battle against Israel, which had boosted its forces with its allies, the tribe of Ephraim. Ahaz and the people of Judah were losing hope of victory. The Lord was reassuring the King that He was with them in battle; no matter what might happen in the meantime, Judah would ultimately be victorious. One interpretation of King Ahaz’s response “I will not put the Lord to the test” when God told him to ask for a sign, was that he had lost hope of victory, hence there was no need to put the Lord to the test. Then, however, Ahaz was given the sign of a virgin having a child and giving birth (an occurrence of a seemingly impossible event) whom she will name Emmanuel (God-is-with-us). That means that, for the people of Judah, the impossible will occur through divine intervention.

In the gospel, the angel spoke to Joseph in the depth of his troubled spirit about Mary. Joseph must have been concerned and fearful that Mary had been caught up in sin (as the cause of her pregnancy). Joseph felt he couldn’t go on with the betrothal, until the angel gave him the reassuring message about Mary and the Baby. The angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.”

The same God – the Immanuel – is to be born in a time different from that of Ahaz. The birth will be the fulfilment of the prophecy – but He will be called ‘Jesus’ because He is coming to save His people from their sins. He does the impossible and saves all His people. An element of that impossibility is the mystery of the Incarnation: God becoming man. “The Word took flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).

What name will you give Him? Remember that Jesus is going to be born in your heart at Christmas. We know that He is both Emmanuel and the Christ. What impact do you think that He is going to have upon your life this Christmas? Your answer will guide you to choose the name by which you personally relate best to the Lord, and in the lives of those whom you will affect positively this coming season. In your heart, cling to that Name which will enable you to share the real message of the coming feast of Christmas.