What’s in a Name?

Icon of the Nativity

Icon of the Nativity (Wikimedia—Public Domain)

This evening at Vespers, monks throughout the world will chant the following antiphon with the Magnificat:

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

In Latin, English, and countless other languages, they will call upon Emmanuel, echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.—Isaiah 7:14 (KJV)

Elsewhere, people will sing the carol based upon this antiphon:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel in Hebrew means “God with us.” What’s in a name? In this case, the meaning of Christmas. God is with us. In a hole in the ground—which is what the “stable” in Bethlehem really was—born to a poor teenaged girl. A powerless child of a powerless mother in the shadow of the most powerful empire the world had ever known.

I believe in this story, but even if you don’t, you must see the power in it. He could have come in great glory with angels blowing trumpets and Caesar Augustus cowering before him. Instead, he came in great humility and sent the angels to proclaim the good news to shepherds.

God is with us. Not just with them—the powerful, the rich, the famous, the admired, but with us—the powerless, the poor, the anonymous, the ignored. Everyone. God is with us.


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