Saturday 18 December 2010

What's in a name??

The meeting between Isaiah and King Ahaz is the second meeting between the two. The first was when God asked Isaiah to go to Ahaz with the message that he remain calm and not let his courage fail him before Rezin the king of Damascus and Pekah the king of Samaria who wanted to replace Ahaz with Ben Tabeel. In this second meeting, the reluctance of the king to ask for a sign is interpreted by Isaiah as a failure of faith, an unwillingness to be reassured by God. Thus the sign will be given even though unasked for. The sign will be the child that Ahaz’s wife Abiyah was carrying in her womb who was King Hezekiah (some think the reference is to the third child of Isaiah). However, though he began well with religious reforms, Hezekiah gradually turned away from the Lord and so the people began to look for another Emmanuel.

In the opening section of his letter to the Romans, Paul makes two main points after describing himself as servant and apostle of Christ and specially chosen to preach the good news that God had promised long ago. The first is that the good news is about the Son of God, and descendant of David who was born in human nature and was truly man and who was proclaimed Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. The second is the call to the addresses to belong to Christ.

The Gospel text is from the Infancy Narrative of Matthew and contains the prophecy of Isaiah found in the first reading of today which here is applied to Jesus. Matthew uses Joseph’s dream as a tool with which to answer questions that may have risen about the virginal conception of Jesus. Since Matthew’s intention is to show Jesus as a descendant of David the focus in his story is on Joseph who in Matthew is a descendant of David. Jesus, who is Son of David, is also Son of God as indicated by the virginal birth and the one who will save all people from sin. In this he is Emmanuel, God with us, not in judgement but grace.

As the feast of Christmas draws near we are invited through the readings to reflect on the meaning of the birth and significance of the name of the God/Man Jesus. Both Matthew and Paul emphasize that Jesus is both God and man. He is God incarnate, Jesus Christ. Matthew goes through great pains to show Jesus clearly as a descendant of David (and so his humanity) but at the same time insists that the Christ child is not really Joseph’s child but conceived through the Holy Spirit (and so his divinity). Paul too seems to have this in mind when writing to the Romans as is shown in his description of the human nature of Jesus and his being a descendant of David, but who is at the same time Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. The point that both seem to want to make is that God has acted decisively in history and through his personal action has caused something new in our world that goes beyond human comprehension.

This decisive action of God was intended to convey to all who encounter him that God is Emmanuel and that his function is to save people from their sin and even each one of us from ourselves. This is what we must keep in mind as we continue our preparations. He is the long cherished hope of all peoples. He is the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled completely. Even if Hezekiah was not able to live up to what was predicted of him, it does not really matter because Jesus has more than made up for the shortfall.

Having as God, a God who saves and, through his incarnation (and so real death and resurrection) is the news that Paul proclaims to the Church in Rome and that is still proclaimed in the Church today. The implications of this are many. The first is that we need never fear God since he is God with and for us, and our response to him must only be a response of love. The second is that we do not have to do anything nor can we do anything to obtain the love of God. It is given freely simply because God wants to. All we have to do is receive it with openness and humility. This leads to a third implication which is accepting that each of us is a sinner and so in need of the saving grace of God. Once we accept this reality then we become more accepting towards others because we realize that we are in the same situation as they are. We are not better than they. We also become more aware of the responsibility that each of us has to reach out in making the other whole and show that we do indeed belong to Christ.

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