When the angel assured Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived from the Holy Spirit, the angel said the child’s name was to be Jesus. Matthew follows this with a quote from Isaiah’s prophecy that a young woman was about to conceive and bear a son who would be called Immanuel. (Mt. 1: 21–22; Is. 7: 14)
So it is that two names are given to the Christ Child, The name Jesus means: “Yahweh Saves.” As the angel said, the child is going to save his people from their sins. (Mt. 1: 20) The name Immanuel means “God is with us.” One name refers to what Jesus does, the other refers to what Jesus is.
Of the two names, it is Immanuel, God-is-with-us, that I want to reflect on in this Christmas reflection. There is an old theological conundrum: Would God have become incarnate if humanity had not fallen into sin? In one respect, the question is mute because humanity did fall into sin and so the Incarnation was a rescue mission. Many theologians leave it at that. But there are some theologians, who suggest that the Incarnation was not a Plan B but was Plan A all along. God was going to take on human nature no matter what. Ever since hearing this line of thought, I have been intrigued by it. I like to think that God did not need to have a desperate predicament on humanity’s part as a reason to come and be with us. Rather, God is the sort of God who wants to be with us. Period.
Let’s say there is a family that has an Aunt Polly who comes to visit from time to time. Aunt Polly is a very competent person who is always ready and willing to help out. So, if there should be any problems in the family at the time of her visit, she will help solve them or at least make them better. But does she come just because there are problems to solve? Clearly Aunt Polly comes to visit because she simply wants to be with the family. If there are no problems to work out, so much the better. If Aunt Polly is motivated by sheer fellowship to visit her family, then surely God is motivated by fellowship to come and visit God’s people. Shouldn’t we take both comfort and delight that God wants to be with us?
The name Immanuel reminds us of the ultimate aim of creation; namely fellowship with God. Redemption is the means to that end once humanity had fallen into sin. Since God was willing to die on a cross to open up the resurrected life to us, it follows that God cares about us very much. So surely God cares enough to want to be with us without needing us to go bad to get God’s attention. If God were Superman, would God have a life if all the bad guys repented?
We might think we are not worthy of God’s presence, and we aren’t, but God thinks we are. Christmas is a good time to reflect on this truth. Before Jesus does anything in particular to save us, Jesus rests in the arms of his mother and feeds at her breast. All Jesus is doing is being with us. Let us do the same and spend time just being with God.