Thursday, December 8, 2011

Immanuel

"What's in a name?" a young girl asks, leaning over a balcony built on a stage in perhaps the most famous monologue of all time. "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet;
                                    So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
                                     Retain that dear perfection which he owns
                                     Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name.
                                     And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
                                     Take all myself."

Juliet's conclusion is that the name of her beloved is merely a label, not organic to the actual living, breathing person whom she has met, touched, and immediately begun to love. The name is her enemy, the person is her love. It a rose is call ragwort, it would still be fragrant, and if Romeo Montague was Homer Simpson he would be beloved and we'd be calling men Homers when they woo us well. Or so she claims.

And in fact, in 21st century America names are mostly labels. Our reasons for naming children are pretty arbitrary when it comes right down to it. Most people no longer choose family names to pass from one generation to the next, though I do know a family whose oldest son is the 10th generation to be named George. Inexplicably, however, they call the boy Jordy, which is neither his middle name nor a derivative thereof.

In the Old Testament, however, there is always purpose to names. From the beginning naming was important.  Adam's first task was to name the creatures who shared the earth with him. And meaning is the most important component of the name. In fact, a person's name is a description of a person's inner character and presumed to influence the person's behavior. A person's name is a revelation of the nature of that person.

So the name of the coming Messiah was no small thing. In the passage in Isaiah where God tells Ahaz that the virgin will conceive and bear a child, He says, "...and [she] will call Him Immanuel."
Immanuel.
This is just about the most weighty name a person has ever been given, standing behind just one. That ONE was so big and powerful, though, Moses had to take off His sandals to hear it. When Moses asked God His name, God answered,
"I AM WHO I AM."
Though I'm no scholar (and far wiser ones than me have debated its meaning for centuries), I know a couple of things about it. Like all other Old Testament names, it describes God's very nature. No, it's actually the SAME as His nature. His NAME is equal to HIMSELF. It's a name of faithfulness and unchangeableness (if that non-word makes sense to you), a statement of God's very being.  And it's a promise to Israel--to be present with them, to keep His covenant, His end of the deal, no matter what they did, and they did plenty!  And, it's personal. It's God's personal name, His divine, personal name. The four letters that make up the Hebrew are YHWH, and are considered by Jews so holy they are not to be uttered. Christians over the centuries have added vowels to them, or truncated them to other names of God so that they are pronounced either Yahweh or Jehovah.

So when we think of the name Immanuel, we must understand it as a desciption--a definition--of the Messiah.  What He will do. It actually is a description of the Incarnation, isn't it? God the second person of the trinity, present with us.  This is what the Messiah is.

And it's what Joseph understands when the angel appears to him in Matthew 1:18-23.  The baby Mary is carrying is the Immanuel, the Messiah, the 'God with us.' This baby is also given a human name Jesus, which means the Lord saves.  It contains a form of the Hebrew YHWH and the verb meaning salvation.
God--the I AM THAT I AM--saves. WILL save. That's the whole point.

As I say, pretty powerful.
And standing right behind...or perhaps to the right hand of the great I AM.  I AM the one who saves.
Jesus, the God in our presence, saves.
Talk about fulfillment of prophecy.
 I'm thinking we should take our shoes off at the stable. God is in our midst.
Come, oh Come, Immanuel. Indeed.
Or, perhaps, thank you that you came.

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