Most Christians have heard about the Annunciation to Mary. As told in Luke’s Gospel, the Archangel Gabriel appears to the young Virgin and proclaims:
"Hail, Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women!”
The Angel then goes on to detail the coming conception and birth of Jesus and Mary’s response, saying “let it be with me according to your word.” Throughout the centuries Christians have looked to this proclimation, and to Mary’s response, for inspiration in our own faithful response to the call of God in our lives. We, like Mary, are called to be open to the Holy Spirit using us to convey the Word of God to a broken and hurting world.
Less commonly referenced is the similar annoucement which an angel made to Joseph. Found in Matthew’s Gospel, this proclimation focuses on the nature and source of the incarnation and the dual character of Jesus’ life and ministry and God and as man.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
In this passage there are two affirmations of particular importance. While a great deal is going on in this passage, and the principle purpose of the appearance of the angel was to reassure Joseph concerning the situation, nevertheless there is a critical theological message being conveyed to us. To put it simply, in the Angel’s statement and through Isaiah’s propehcy we are told everything we need to know regarding who Jesus was and is for us. While often overlooked when reading the passage, the signficance of the names “Jesus” and “Emmanuel” cannot be overstressed when trying to understand who this baby, conceived within and born of a Virgin, is to be.
As is true with many languages, in Hebrew and in Aramaic names convey meanings: the constituent elements of a name will often reveal the nature, identity, character, history, and even the destiny of the person, place, or thing so-named. This is true of many places and people named in the Old and New Testaments, and it is certainly true when it comes to the name of Jesus.
The name of our Lord, as pronounced in Aramaic, is Yeshua. This is the short form of the classical Hebrew name Yehoshua, which is a combination of Hoshea, meaning "salvation," and Yahweh, which is God's personal name. Written in Hebrew, it looks like this:
Taken together, the composite name means "Yahweh is Salvation" or, alternatively, "Yahweh Saves." This name is found several times in the Old Testament and is usually transliterated into English as “Joshua.” In the Greek Old Testament -- the Septuagint -- this name is almost always transliterated as Iesous, which, written in Greek, looks like this:
And it is from this Greek-language rendering of the Hebrew name Yeshua that we derive our English-language rendering of our Lord's name: "Jesus." Some people take great excpetion to calling our Lord anyting other than his actual Hebrew name; the majority opinion, however, is that Jesus is Iesous is Yeshua is Yehoshua ... and they all mean "Yahweh Saves."
With the choice of this name God is telling us precisely why he sent his son into this world. To put it simply, all humans are sinners, lost to righteousness and totally incapable of coming to God of their own accord. In order to bridge the gap which sin has created between us and God, the Father sent his Son into the world to become one of us, taking upon himself the very nature of humanity in the incarnation. He became, for all of us, the embodiment of "Yahweh saves." He is, truly, our "Jesus."The Angel even says as much, making it clear that we have no source of salvation, no hope for eternal life, and no path to God other than through Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah’s statement is slightly different from the Angel’s. While the Angel told Joseph to name the boy “Jesus” “Yahweh Saves” Isaiah’s prophecy can be understood as telling us how Yahweh saves us from our sins. The name Emmanuel is another composite name, made up of the classical Hebrew words, El, meaning "God," and Immanu, meaning "with us." Written in Hebrew, it looks like this:
And it means “the with us God” or, as it is more commonly translated, “God with us.” In giving this title to Jesus in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, God tells us that we are not alone. No matter where we are or what we have done, God has promsied to be "with us" in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The most glorious good news of Advent and Christmas is that Yahweh saves us by sending his Son to be one of us, to die for us, and to go forward with us in this life. We are not alone; we face this life with God on our side, and we face eternity with God in our hearts.
By the power of the Holy Spirit the blessed Virgin Mary was overshadowed and Jesus was conceived in her womb. By the power of the Holy Sprit Jesus was born, grew up, and was baptized; by the power of this same Holy Spirit, Jesus taught his Disciples, instiuted the Sacrament of Holy Communion, offered himself on the cross, died, was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. And, by the power of this same Holy Spirit this same Jesus abides within us today, transforming us for life eternal. Jesus truly is our Emmanuel: the ultimate, eternal, ontological expresion of the eternal creator being present with and within us. This is the meaning, and importance, of Advent and Christmas.
During Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the incarnation and birth of our Lord yet again, let us remember that the reason we celebrate is not just because a baby was born; we celebreate because Yahweh, our God, is with us here and now, and he will see us through every tomorrow.
Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite, Texas, and an Ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity Graduate College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Biblical Studies, Languages, Systematic Theology, Liturgy, and the Sacraments. He has taught New Testament Studies, Biblical Greek, and courses on the Theology of the Sacraments in UM Schools of Mission, Continuing Education Seminars, and in undergraduate courses across the country. As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. He is the author of several books, including Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, both of which are available from Koinonia Press through your local bookstore, on the internet at Amazon.com, and in the Grace Incarnate Store. You are invited to read Dr. Neal's academic papers and theological articles on his website at Writings, and you are encouraged to listen to Dr. Neal's Messages online in Real Player format.
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