|Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 10
Excerpted from Rubel Shelly, What Child Is This? (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Company, 1996).
It certainly isn't the commonest name in the world: Immanuel.
Wonder if anyone other than Joseph and Mary ever used it of him? My dad used to call me to the front of his store or in from play with a name no one else ever uses for me. "Joe, would you come here a minute?" I knew who he was calling, but hardly anyone else did. Do you suppose Joseph called Jesus to his workbench or inside from playing with a name others in Nazareth never used of him? "Immanuel, would you come here a minute?"
Can you imagine what that name signified to Mary and Joseph? Sure, lots of names have meanings the parents hope will attach to the children given them. Timothy means "God-fearer." Dorothy means "gift of God." Ethan means "strong." Katherine means "pure." The name Immanuel means "God with us."
When Joseph or Mary used that name of the little boy in their house, they must have felt awe-struck. They knew the real paternity of their son, and they accepted his presence with them as the Son of God. He was divine, their Sovereign Lord, the Creator. God was with them in the most unique of ways.
Imagine them staring at him and thinking about his identity. Then imagine the baby sneezing, burping, or wetting his diaper. He was a real baby, you know! What would that make happen in their heads? Jesus is the world's greatest and most startling paradox.
Maybe they never used Immanuel as a proper name at all. Perhaps it was simply a descriptive term like mountain-climber, musician, or mother-in-law. When we use those terms, we are not naming people. We are describing a distinctive or notable feature of their functions in life. If that is how we are to understand Immanuel, things other than parental endearment or paradox come to mind.
Immanuel means that heaven is no longer remote from Earth. God with us signifies that we have worth in his eyes, that he cares what goes on among us, that he loves us. Immanuel means that we have seen God with skin on and know how we should think and behave and treat one another if we want to be godly people.
God with us defines the meaning of goodness, mercy, faithfulness, and love. Immanuel means that we are not isolated from a God on a distant throne but that we have a God who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.
At a more personal level, however, perhaps his name or title needs to be pronounced "God with us" rather than "God with us" or "God with us." The real point of Jesus in my life is not that he was born at Bethlehem, reared at Nazareth, or crucified at Jerusalem. That all those things are true means nothing until he is in me and I in him.
Immanuel must be translated "God with me" in order to mean salvation. And when that presence is real, it is as impossible to miss as a curious child with quick hands in a carpenter's shop or his day's dozens of questions at his mother's knee.
A latter-day Mary who was far removed from either virginity or holiness fell under the weight of her sin. She made a serious attempt to kill herself, only to be snatched back to life after a roommate came home early and called the paramedics. Mary was anything but grateful.
Now, four and one-half years later, Mary has her act together. She is sane and responsible. She is a productive human being. She is at church every time the doors are open. At her job, she is serving Christ by working with disabled children. And she has been married for nearly a year to a Christian man who loves her devotedly.
What happened to Mary, you ask? She decided to let God be with her. She is living the truth of Immanuel.
Mary had known about him from childhood. The struggles of painful teen years took her far away from him. Finally, with her empty life handed back to her after the suicide attempt, she looked back in his direction. She stopped fighting God. She believed. She surrendered. She adopted the attitude of her biblical namesake: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."
It still happens -- wherever a non-coercive God is received into a humble and teachable heart.
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