Minute Meditations

Emmanuel—God with Us

The Advent name for God is Emmanuel. We sing it over and over in the familiar hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” The name means “God is with us” and comes to us from the prophet Isaiah. Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus was a fulfillment of this prophecy, God with us in the flesh, born a human baby, like us in all things. It’s an echo of the more exalted language of the prologue of John’s Gospel, which tells us that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Scripture scholars tell us that the second half of John’s Greek phrase translates literally as “pitched his tent among us.” This was an image that a first-century, semi-nomadic people would understand. In the Old Testament, God’s presence among the people was often described as a messenger or angel of the Lord. But the revelation of the incarnation is that now it is God himself in our midst and one of us. It’s difficult for us to grasp this concept. Perhaps this is why Matthew and Luke make such a point of describing the baby in the manger visited by shepherds, the child receiving gifts from the magi. 

Perhaps this is why we have such a resonance with Christmas. We understand the great gift of life in a newborn child. There’s a purity in a newborn, a sense of both innocence and ancient wisdom, that gives us a glimpse of God. Knowing that God not only knows but experienced what it was to be a human being, composed of blood and flesh and bone, limited by all the things that limit us, should give us patience with our weakness and joy in our strength. In our prayers for help, we can say, “You know what it’s like,” and be confident that he does. But we can also look to the end of the story and know that by being one of us, he was able to raise us up to overcome those limits—and the final limit of death itself. As St. Irenaeus put it so well, “He became human so that we might become divine.” 

The holiday season with its hustle and bustle and seemingly endless activities places demands on our bodies as well as our spirits. We can, if we like, imagine Jesus in the busy days of his preaching and teaching and healing ministry. If we do, we may also hear him calling to us and saying, “Come aside and rest for a while.” Because we know that he knows what it is to feel tired and need to be rested and refreshed.

—from the book The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

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