Sunday, December 19, 2004


Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The appointed gospel text for today is the story of Joseph receiving word from the angel that the baby Mary is carrying (out of wedlock mind you) is a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. Matthew - the gospel writer - caps the passage by pointing out that the birth of Jesus would be in fulfillment of of Isaiah 7:10-14. It is from this, and its repetition in Matthew, that Jesus is given the name Emmanuel.

Emmanuel is a compound hebrew word which means God is with us.

The story of Jesus is all about this truth. God has promised to be with us and he is most fully with us in Jesus Christ.

Emmanuel is a name about covenant because in Jesus God keeps his promise to Israel to bring redemption.

Emmanuel is a name about Incarnation because the way in which God has chosen to be with us is by becoming one of us. As one of my New Testament professors from seminary put it, "there is a first century jewish man on the right hand of the throne of God -- right now!"

Emmanuel is a name about redemption. The angel told Joseph that the child should be named Jesus because he would save his people from there sins. It was Isaiah (59:2) where God told Israel that there sin kept God hidden. But Israel , and all humanity, were/are trapped in sin -- like hostages. We need a rescuer. Emmanuel is a name that tells us we have been rescued. Wow!!

Emmanuel is also a name about mission. As St. Theresa Avila penned, "Christ has no body now but yours." God's mission is to move into the world to be with us; to be in communion or relationship with us. His mission was fully realized in Emmanuel. But his mission goes on. So, this name Emmanuel is a name that calls us to join God in his work of covenant, incarnation and redemption. That is what Advent is about.

This was made very real to me last Sunday. St. Pat's church had to make arrangments to worship at an alternative site. We decided to turn our worship into an act of service. We went to the new annex for the Lexington Rescue Mission and cleaned and set up their chapel. After the work was done, we worshipped in the place where we served. In a small, halting way, we were trying to live into what the name Emmanuel means. We were trying to be Christ's hands and feet.

Advent is a time when we rejoice in what God has done for us. And I believe we should fully and deeply and wildly rejoice!! But Advent is also a time when we ask ourselves, "how am to cooperate with God's mission to be with us." That brings the meaning of Advent full circle.

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