Lectionary Readings: Is 35:1-6a / Ps 146 / Jam 5:7-10 / Mt 11:2-11
“Come, come, Emmanuel! Son of God appear. Heaven and earth, rejoice! Salvation is drawing near.” That is the refrain of Steve Angrisano’s Advent Hymn, Emmanuel. However, the refrain beautifully sums up the themes of the lectionary readings for this Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudate Sunday, the Sunday of Joy.
While the readings throughout the past weeks may seem to be somber reminders about the last day, we are reminded that God is not a man with a white beard sitting on a throne up in heaven waiting to judge us. Rather, God is someone who wants to be with us, to journey with us.
It seems to me that as the years pass by, the name Emmanuel bears a different and deeper meaning. When I was young, in school, I recall that in class, the teacher taught about how Jesus is known by many names, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Saviour… Then, at English Mass you hear the classic, “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” a very common Advent hymn, a translation of the latin, “Veni, veni Emmanuel”. I recall those years, I only understood was another name referring to Jesus.
Growing up and listening to the Gospel a little more attentively, the answer finally came to me when Matthew 1:23 was read, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
If one extracts the definition here in Matthew 1:23, “God is with us,” it is such a beautiful definition that describes Jesus. Jesus, true God wanting to be with us in the form of true man, the mystery of the incarnation – that is what Christmas is all about, God wanting to be with us. But God was not born as a worldly king. Though Jesus came from the line of King David, Jesus was a king born of a woman, with a stable as a palace, with a manger as his throne.
One of the Christmas Gospel options for the Christmas Eve Mass that may not be the most interesting to some, the Genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:1-6). Is it a long 16 verses just listing names of people of Jesus’ family tree from Abraham to Jesus, many of the names in which you have not even heard of before? Jehoram? Jotham? Hezekiah? These are people of the Old Testament who were all sinners. They have done mistakes. Yet, God chose to be born from such a family line, because God wanted to be one of us, he did not want to be different than any human being, but that of sin.
Understanding the term Emmanuel is important because we hear it so often during the Advent and Christmas season that we say it, we sing it without letting the definition of the term sink into us. Emmanuel within Advent and Christmas hymns is our call out to God, asking God to be among us in this world full of darkness and terror, like the people of the Old Testament. I see that Emmanuel a response to the invocation in Psalm 42, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Ps 42:1-2)
Within the context of the Liturgy, we are reminded of Emmanuel very often as the presider and the proclaimer of the Gospel says, “The Lord be with you”, and we respond, “And with your spirit”. Do we just respond out of routine? Is the minister himself conscious that every time the exchange, “The Lord be with you – and with your spirit,” takes place that we are asking Emmanuel to be among us, or reminding one another that God is with us in Word and Sacrament?
As evident in both the first reading of the prophet Isaiah, the psalm, the epistle of James and the Gospel of Matthew, we see that Jesus is not the Saviour who sits in the sky to judge and punish us. Rather, he is a companion who wants to journey with us man and accomplish the work of salvation. He wants to be with us and so include us in the history of salvation.
Yet, looking into our daily lives, how do we make Emmanuel present within our daily lives? How do we let other know that God is with us? Our lives must be reflective of that fact that we have Emmanuel present within our lives. That means, we must let our faith in God be reflective in word and deed everyday, but in a more prominent way, during this Christmas season as we are constantly reminded of the wonderful gift God gave us. Christmas is an opportunity to serve your family, your friends, you parish community and the wider community. Let Christmas dinners and gatherings be chance to remind us of Emmanuel, that we are here today because God is with us. Let this be a time to serve the poor at homeless shelters, at food banks, a time to serve the people of the peripheries. Let this be a time so the unfortunate know that Emmanuel – God is with us and that they are not abandoned. I repeat, let this Christmas time be a time so that we may be reflections of the Emmanuel to our brothers and sisters. It is only when people see that God is with us, then will people rejoice because they know that God is present in their lives.
“Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”