Saturday, December 22, 2007

Divine Names

(4th Sunday of Advent, A)

The birth of our Savior is near, and in our Scriptures on this last Sunday before Christmas we hear of two names that he will bear. They are “Emmanuel,” and “Jesus.”

Before we even reflect on the intense meaning of these names, we ought to appreciate first that a name for God is revealed to us at all. Yes, God revealed the divine name to Moses, “I am,” or “I am who am,” or “I am who comes to be,” but this is hardly a name in any sense we can understand.

But for us God now has a name: Jesus. It is the wonderful revelation that we have a God who can be called upon by name, with whom we can have a personal relationship. But it is also a scandal, for it is against the so-called “spiritualities” of this world. We don’t believe in a “supreme being” or a quote-unquote spirituality. We believe in a person, a human being who is the very Word of God made flesh, made one of us.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God reveals to the sinful king Ahaz his intention to save us from our sins through a miraculous birth from a virgin. And the child to be born will be called Emmanuel. “Emmanuel,” literally, “God with us.” This is the beauty of the mystery we celebrate at Christmas—God is with us. God is not off somewhere in an abstract heaven that we don’t even really believe in. God is here, as close to us as we are to those we love and care for—indeed even closer.

“Emmanuel,” “God with us,” also means that God is for us. In Jesus Christ, God is on our side. Sometimes we act like God is a kind of landlord. If we behave ourselves and try to do good, he’ll let us live in his blessing, in his grace. If we’re careless and let ourselves become sinners, he’ll reject us. Not at all! God is on our side, and suffers with his own passionate desire for our salvation and happiness. God is for us, and wants to save and heal anyone who will accept him, saint or sinner.

The great birth we celebrate this week is our Emmanuel, God with us and God for us. And in our Gospel today, the angel of the Lord reveals his given name to Joseph. “You are to call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

“Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name we usually translate into English as “Joshua.” It simply means, “God saves.” And that’s the simplest version of the Christmas message we could have. A child is born, and his appearance on earth is the salvation God brings.

Think back to Jesus’ namesake in the Old Testament, the great Joshua who was Moses’ successor. Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, but he never entered the Promised Land. It was Joshua who went before them, leading the people to conquer the land of Canaan so that they might take possession of the land that God had given them.

In the same way, the Savior who is born for us, Jesus Christ, leads into the promised land of grace and peace. In his divine humanity he will battle the forces of evil on our behalf in his temptations in the desert. He will cure diseases and lift from people the burden of their sin and guilt. And finally, he will break all our cycles of violence by taking all of our violence and hardness of heart to the Cross. Taking all of that evil upon himself, he gives us back nothing but the utter blessing and goodness of the new life of Resurrection.

That’s the God who is with us as our Emmanuel. And that’s the God who in his own heart of hearts, is the Savior, Jesus.

1 comment:

Michael Hallman said...

Beautiful sermon, Father! Merry Christmas to you!

Your reflection brought a question to my mind: has anyone, to your knowledge, ever explored the a relationship between Moses and Joshua similar to John and Jesus? I don't know if it would even play out right, but I was thinking in light of your sermon how it was Moses who paved the way, and yet ultimately it was Joshua who conquered, just as it was with John and Jesus. Just a thought. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!