“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Emmanuel means God is with us. And what a way that God chose to be with us, not as King or an emperor. Not coming with an army of angels and fire. But quietly as a little baby, born in a barn to a teenage mother and bewildered (but faithful) father. To a family who soon became refugees and later returned to a humble home in Nazareth.
In three-comings-of-Christ thinking Emmanuel is not just about the first coming of Christ. The text of the antiphon reminds us that though born into the historical ‘here and now’ of humble Bethlehem he was still saviour, lawgiver, king. The gifts of the Magi underline this, Gold for a king, Frankincense for his Divinity, and Myrrh foretelling his death.
The hope entangled in the swaddling of the Christ child is the mingling of history, future and presence. God-with-us was not a historical event to be sanitized on cards and in carols. God-is-with-us is not an eschatological threat to oppress humanity into worship and obedience. God-is-with-us is not a taming of God into cuddly concept easy to handle.
Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, is the past, future and present reality of God and Creation. The Christmas story gives us the powerful context of God choosing to be born into vulnerable Creation into a scared and occupied people, and drawing people rejected and reviled into the story of Love and Salvation. The promise of Christ’s coming in glory gives us Hope for all Creation. The challenge of God-is-with-us in the in-between time is to hold both the Babe in Bethlehem and the King of Glory together as the Jesus we meet frequently in all of those we meet.
Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.Bernard of Clairvaux