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.


4 thoughts on “Emmanuel

  1. Perhaps she is choosing her words with care, sensitive to the fact that the name Jesus has so much meaning attached. Meanings both positive, and for many people who have had negative experiences with the church and Christianity, off putting. In her role as representative of the denomination whose words will be read by believer and unbeliever alike, I am guessing she is extraordinarily careful to refrain from words that are triggers. I’m thinking of the relentless use of the name “Jaysus!” in the Baptist church that is used alternately like a whip to stir up the congregation, lacerate sinners and generate altar call conversions. It’s terrible that certain groups have appropriated the name of Jesus to the point that his name is not a “default positive.” It’s many things, but neutral, welcoming, loving? For many people, that’s not what they feel when they hear the name Jesus. The associate it with elements of Christianity that hate, exclude, judge and marginalize. Perhaps your argument could be that the Presiding Bishop should try and re-appropriate the word despite the alienation it might cause some. I think back to countless coffee hours though and how rarely the name Jesus is used in casual conversation in the Episcopal church… where your relationship to him is considered more private. She is both a representative and a product of our church after all…

    • I’m sure you are probably right, but as I’ve written elsewhere (see my post titled “our fundamental identity”) I don’t think the sins of the past (or of others) are made up by watering down our own tradition. We are Christians, after all, so let’s show the world a different way of following Jesus.

  2. Isn’t one way to follow Jesus, to live like him… compassionately, demonstrating sensitivity to the feelings of those we encounter? Not so much “making up for the past” as being present to those we hold as neighbors today.

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