Last week, I got frustrated, yet again, with our Presiding Bishop because of her seemingly intentional non-use of the name Jesus in her official Christmas Letter. Ignoring for a moment the way in which her brilliant mind constantly betrays my theory that theology that doesn’t speak to your typical Wal*Mart shopper is theology wasted, my biggest annoyance about her 7+ year Presiding Bishopric is her inability to say the name by which we are all saved, Jesus.
It isn’t that she doesn’t recognize Jesus as her Lord and Savior, I have no doubts about her faith in the risen Lord, there just seems to be something about the historical Jesus that trips her up. Of course, that’s nothing new. For two-thousand years, people have attempted to speak beyond the singular person of Jesus in order to more broadly reflect what it is the Messiah came to do. He’s been called the Bright Morning Star, the Great High Priest, the Christ, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God, the Son of Man and on and on. My favorite nick-name for Jesus appears in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Emmanuel.
According to my handy-dandy Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Emmanuel (also spelled Immanuel) is from Hebrew meaning “God with us.” “A child in Isaiah’s writings, so named as a sign of God’s presence and protaection (Isa. 7:14, 8:8). This is seen in the Gospel of Matthew as a prophecy of the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ, who will be called “God with us” (Matt. 1:23, citing Isa. 7:14). (pg 89)
I love that image of Emmanuel, God with us because of how it ties in with the great Prologue to John’s Gospel that we’ll hear read on Christmas I. “The Word became flesh (a term +KJS is unafraid to us) and dwelt among us.” Or, as Eugene Peterson put is “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” God’s immanence in the person of Jesus is what changes the game in salvation history. It is worth spending lots of time reflecting on that name, Emmanuel.
Conveniently, Emmanuel plays a key role in the only Advent hymn I care to sing, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” is hymn number 56 in The Hymnal 1982. The various verses can be used as antiphons to the Magnificat during the waning days of Advent, beginning on December 17. So, as we transition from a season of expectation to season of joy my intent is to reflect upon the verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel each day from December 17th until the 23rd. On the 24th, I’ll post my Christmas Eve Sermon and then turn my attention to Christmas 1.