Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Grace Family!
We have come to the end of another calendar year, but we are just getting started with the church year. I am not sure why the two calendars are off by a month, but I suspect it has much to do with Christmas. The birth of Jesus was obviously a beginning, God doing something new in coming to live among us, and so it kind of makes sense that our ‘faith’ calendar starts in the month we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.
I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. Emmanuel is at the top of my list of the ways in which we refer to Jesus. It is not a name we use often outside the context of Christmas, but it is perhaps the most impactful, at least for me, aspect of the incarnation. Lord and Savior is also a very powerful and impactful title for Jesus as is His ‘proper’ name, Jesus, the most common way we refer to God’s Son.
In ancient times a name was more than just a way to identify a specific person. In scripture most of names of characters in the Bible mean something. For Instance, David means ‘Beloved’ and Abraham means, ‘Father of the Multitude.’ John means, ‘God is Gracious’, and Peter means, ‘Stone’. Of course, it will not surprise anyone to know Jesus means, ‘God is Salvation.’ Perhaps the most obvious example, which goes way beyond our understanding, is the proper name of God, which is YHWH, otherwise known as the Tetragrammaton. It is a name so sacred that Jews rarely speak or even write it because it invokes all that God is.
This dynamic is what is behind my fondness of Emmanuel. For me it is not just God is aware of me or present in Spirit, or that God is on my side. It includes a deep sense of awe that stems from the greatness of God, God’s willingness to be physically present with humankind, God’s infinite and unconditional love revealed on the cross, and God’s desire to have a deep, abiding relationship with me. WITH ME! It is unimaginable to me!
I sometimes loose track of this perspective in the midst of a busy and often complicated life and too often get caught up in my own little world. But you know what? Emmanuel means that God never forgets about me. God is never distracted even though God watches over all of creation. Even in my worst moments, God never checks out, even for a second. And this is most impactful for me when I think back on the most difficult times in my life. The poem about footprints in the sand sums this paradigm up beautifully. Emmanuel does not mean a life free of trials, but it does mean that regardless of my circumstances or mindset God is there. Emmanuel does not depend on me; it is who God is.
Emmanuel is also vital to Holy Communion. That probably seems obvious. Communion is more than a small piece of bread and sip of wine, or a way to remember Jesus. It is the embodiment of Emmanuel as the bread and wine become very much a part of us because it is Jesus in the bread and wine. This is a beautiful aspect of the sacrament that I think of every time I am invited to the Lord’s Table.
God with us is one of the countless aspects of Christmas that give this holiday its meaning and power and it all began in a stable in Bethlehem thousands of years ago. The beginning of human life meant the end of death and sin’s grip on us and because of Emmanuel it never wears off or gets stale. The birth of Jesus is the only beginning that has no end and we have God to thank for that. My hope and prayer for you this month is that in the midst of your busy life or any trial you may face that you remember and cling to Emmanuel and all that it means.
Blessings to you all,