In this weekend’s First Reading, Isaiah delivers the famous prophecy: “The young maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name that means ‘God-is-with-us’.” Then our Gospel Reading tells us that Mary fulfilled these words when she gave birth to Jesus. This nicely sets the stage for our annual celebration of Christmas next Wednesday.
It’s interesting, however, that the angel in Joseph’s dream instructs him to call the child ‘Jesus’ rather than ‘Emmanuel’. This name is a variant form of ‘Joshua’, the successor of Moses who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, and it literally means: “He saves.” As the angel explains to Joseph, the child “… is the one who is to save his people from their sins.”
The amazing truth is that Jesus actually lived up to both of the prophesied names. He was literally God incarnate, and he took on human form for the express purpose of saving us from our sins. Jews to this day struggle to accept the possibility that the transcendent and all-powerful God they believe in would ever humble himself to become human—let alone die on a cross to expiate humanity’s sins. But we believe in St. John’s testimony that: “God is love”. So we don’t think that God really diminished himself in doing either of these things. On the contrary, he showed us the true immensity of his love in a way that exceeded our wildest hopes.
The name ‘Christian’ is one that we have chosen for ourselves. The question we need to ask—not just during the holiday season but at all times—is how well we’re living up to the legacy of perfect love that Jesus calls us to inherit.