(Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans. . .; Matthew 1:18-21; Psalm 24)
“Emmanuel” . . . I love saying “Emmanuel”. . . in between the space of my lips, phonetically within the form of my pronunciations, through a mixture of two languages I have lived with, French and English. I love to sing it in the song we sing during Advent, as we approach the coming of our hope ”God with us.” And I especially love to say “Emmanuel” while in prayer, in a whisper, in silence, in the depths of my being. For there is the overwhelming, fragile reality that God is very near and waiting for us.Emmanuel . . . Sign – Land – WordI have observed that the name “Emmanuel” is mentioned three times in Scripture; twice in the book of Isaiah and once in the Gospel of Matthew. In Isaiah 7:10-14, Ahaz who is in a very of difficult situation and doesn’t want to ask God for a sign. . . is given one anyway. Isaiah responds, “Look, behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” This is followed in Isaiah 8:8 where the land of Canaan is acclaimed as “the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” This is the land inherited by the Hebrew people and the land where God came to dwell. Today, this land is still expressed in many Synagogues; where the temples themselves are oftentimes named “Emmanuel.” In the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-21, Joseph is also in a difficult position, but God assures him through a sign in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid. . .for it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived.” Matthew then makes the connection back to the prophetic sign in Isaiah. Again we hear, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, “God with us”). For Christians, Jesus is the Messiah. Therefore, the land is now the new land of our hearts, where the child-God comes to dwell. The name “Emmanuel,” then, is a sign within the “Sign of God”; a land within the “Land of God;” a word within the “Word of God.” It is of no wonder that I love to say it. . . because, God loves to say it with me. And yes, I am certain that in our hearts Emmanuel is as near to us as to the person or persons we choose to pray for. This may be hard to imagine, when we too are oftentimes in difficult circumstances: as we struggle to give time to God, to our families, to each other in community; when we struggle to reach out to the needs in our local areas and the needs across the globe besieged by war and calamities. And how do we continue to give through all the layered barriers of injustices we know of or do not know about. Like Christ we keep at it in patience. Amid the groaning of the cries and the groaning of trying to help, we come to Advent within a “place” where there is a sign of hope, there is a land of hope, there is a word of hope.I was surprised to find that the name Emmanuel is translated around the world with very little variations in phonetic structure. However, it’s meaning “God with us” has a wide range of translations. In Haiti for instance, in unimaginable poverty, they still sing of Emmanuel, “Bondye avek nous,” God with us. In Asia between the tension of two countries of North and South Korea, Emmanuel is there, as many Koreans will say ”uliwa hamkke hananim,” God with us. In the Middle East in the midst of a war, some will say “Al-lhm’na,” God with us. Our Sisters in Tanzania proclaim through their ministry to orphans and the Aids epidemic, “Mungu yupo nasi,” God with us. In Chili, the sisters in their simple poverty pray, “Dios con nosotros,” God with us. In the Letter to the Romans 1:1-7, Paul tells us what God is doing …“to bring about obedience of faith…for the sake of his Name among all the Nations”. Throughout Advent, the readings have alluded to this obedience. This is an obedience through Emmanuel, “the child who shall lead.” This is the God of Love, the Prince of Peace, the Child Emmanuel, calling us to prayer, calling us to reconciliation, calling us to peace, and calling us to reach out to the person in the land. And that land can be as near as the person in our hearts, the person sitting next to us, and the person in the land as “near” across the world.O Emmanuel. . .In the prologue of St. Benedict’s Rule, we are reminded “Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God and our ears to the voice from heaven.” O Emmanuel, how gracious you are, that we are able to come together in this Benedictine house of prayer and ponder that moment of history: the “hope” from the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ coming to dwell with us. Imagine Mary and the child in her womb, waiting. Imagine her vulnerability and her strength. Imagine the firm tenderness of Joseph. Imagine the silence—of presence, not of absence. Imagine the peace in that presence of silence. Imagine, from this silence, the moment when the name “Emmanuel” was first proclaimed. Now, imagine the possibilities of hope between the spaces of our lips from the depths of our beings.