advent 4a: waiting for Emmanuel

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Gospels / Lectionary / Major Prophets / New Testament / Old Testament

“Have you accepted Emmanuel as your Lord and Savior?”

“I’ve given my heart to Emmanuel.”

“I pray in Emmanuel’s name.”

When’s the last time you heard one of these statements?

Yeah, me neither.

If you told someone that you oriented your life to follow the teachings of Emmanuel, and worshipped Emmanuel every weekend – wouldn’t most people assume that you were part of some weird, fringe religion?


And yet, “Emmanuel” is indeed a secondary title for Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew and as originally quoted from the Prophet Isaiah.

It’s just that “Emmanuel” is used as an ‘insider’ nickname for Jesus. Only Christians ‘in-the-know’ would use “Emmanuel” with any frequency. We use it when we want to be poetic. Or musical. Or we want an interesting name for a parish church.

Go ahead and walk into a Sunday School of most any church in America and ask them to tell you about the death and resurrection of Emmanuel. I guarantee 95% of the students look at your with crossed-eyes.


And, the thing is, this confusion seems to find its genesis right there in the pages of scripture.

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her that she will bear a child, and to name him “Jesus.” Then Matthew uses the prophesy of Isaiah to serve as the underpinning of this holy event, and he quotes the section of the “virgin/ young woman” who bears a child and names him “Emmanuel.”

One might think that Matthew would have foregone this final detail, because it sounds like within a matter of a few verses this child is given two names.

Now, the names are important. “Jesus” is the name that we use, but it is the Latin form of the Hebrew name “Yeshua,” or “Joshua.”

It means “God Saves.”

And, it’s also the name of the man who took over Moses’ mission, and who ended up ushering in the People of God to the Promised Land.

Do you see that? Jesus shares his name with the man who finished the task of bringing God’s People from slavery and death in Egypt into the Promised Life that God had in store for them.

Let that sink in a minute.

And, “Emmanuel,” of course, means “God with us.” In Isaiah 7, it’s the name of the sign that is given to the embattled King Ahaz that everything was going to be ok, even though it didn’t look like it.

God’s message to Ahaz: Fear not. I am with you.

Gosh, where have we heard that before?

Matthew sets up the Incarnation of Jesus to be an event which collects all the holy hopes and dreams that God’s People ever had. He’s not just given two names, he embodies the promises that God makes with his people.

God is with us. And, God is bringing us from slavery and death into a Kingdom of life and freedom.

Oh, can that day come any quicker?

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