"Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God is with us. (Matt. 1:23). St. Matthew says the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy from Isaiah "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. (Isa. 7:14). St. Matthew interprets the name Emmanuel to mean God-is-with-us. St. John Chrysostom asks why he wasn’t named Emmanuel son of Joseph, or Emmanuel of Nazareth, or Emmanuel Christ.  He says that the event itself and the consequence of the birth of Jesus will cause people to recognize that He is in fact the Emmanuel, God-is-with-us.  Admittedly, Chrysostom observes, God has always been with us but never has He been so openly among us. It’s a wonderful observation and we should keep it in mind as we prepare for and celebrate the Nativity.  God really is with us. In Orthodox iconography, ‘Emmanuel’ is often depicted as a youthful Christ as seen in the accompanying image. The painting illustrates that the God Who was before all time also lived with us as a young child.

The realization that God lives with us, as one of us, like one of us, makes Christmas more than the sentimental image of a cute little baby laying in a manger surrounded by docile animals, adoring angels, bewildered peasants and lost kings. The story and the image make us realize that God did decide to live with us as an infant, as a child, as a young man and as an adult.

The teaching of Jesus places strong emphasis on the Kingdom of God.  St. John the Baptist said it was coming, Jesus said it was already here.  Jesus had a lot to say about this Kingdom being presence.  It’s the whole context of His teaching and of His miracles. According to the Gospels, the Kingdom could be described as a new reign of godliness brought about by divine intervention embodied in the life of Jesus. This kingdom is not confined to any place in particular or to any human realm or race, or to any historical period of time or earthly political or religious system – although it does include all of these. It doesn’t belong to human beings to control or manipulate, although we share intimately in its existence and are invited to promote its growth and development.

The birth of Jesus and the Kingdom He proclaimed is about transformation: a new world characterized by the presence of God among us having the capacity to create relationships based on compassion, love, peace and justice, something political realms and religions cannot achieve. Christmas means that God has permanently entered our lives. He has turned our power structures inside out and upside down.  He has declared the poor, the powerless and the marginalized blessed. Christmas reminds us that God has dissolved Himself into our history.

Christmas challenges us to accept responsibility for a transformation, initiated in Jesus, and commit ourselves to the unfolding of a Kingdom marked by right relationships of justice, compassion, love and peace. It’s in this metaphorical Kingdom that we find the real meaning of the name Emmanuel.


Christ Is Born – Glorify Him! Blessings,

Fr. Timothy

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