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Emmanuel, What’s in a Name? by Maxie Dunnam

In the article last week I talked about Christmas in relation to the name given to the baby born on that day, JESUS

Rehearse a bit. Matthew reports that Joseph had a dream in which he was instructed to name his son, Jesus. The name means “God shall save us from our sins.” So, when the angel says, “His name shall be called Jesus,” the name reveals what he will do. The tradition of the name means He will save you from whatever holds you in bondage, and will lead you to the fulfillment of your life. But it helps us none unless we respond.

So let’s enlarge the perspective. Hold the angel’s announcement in your mind. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, for unto you is born a Savior. There is more. The Gospel writer followed that announcement saying, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has spoken by the prophet. “Behold, A Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with Us).” (Matt.1:22-23)

So that too is a name for the child of Christmas: EMMANUEL, “God with us.” The same prophet, Isaiah, had this to say about Emmanuel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has … light shined … for to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6 RSV)

What promise! What hope! This is the word we desperately need to appropriate, for this is no naive notion, no surface optimism; this is the bedrock of reality which moves from the groaning of despair to hope and confidence. 

I remember an old movie, The Day After, that has a message here. The declaration of that movie was ‘Look what the world is coming to.” Its detractors and its champions had their day in the media. As a political statement it was hotly debated. But more important, there was a religious statement to be noted.

The theme music in the beginning and at the end was that of one of our great hymns ‘How Firm a Foundation”. That theme music at the end was set against the haunting appeal that goes out from the destruction, devastation, and despair of Lawrence, Kansas. Everything is contaminated, all is in chaos, buildings have crumbled, flesh has been melted off human and animal skeletons, and most of the survivors are disfigured and dysfunctional. There is no good water and no electricity.

Some students and a professor have put together a radio desperately seeking to make contact with the outside world. “Hello, this is Lawrence, Kansas, is anyone there?” They plead “Can anyone hear me? Is anyone there?”

At the end of the movie there is a sweeping camera panoramic of the devastation and despair; and a shot of those seeking to make radio contact. The music floats into your attention as that longing, anguishing plea is sounded again: “Is anyone there? Can you hear me? Is anyone there?” And the music calls to your mind the words that we sing to it: “How Firm a Foundation, Ye Saints of the Lord, Is Laid for Your Faith in His Excellent Word.”

Whether he intended it or not, the screenplay writer made a profound statement. Not “Look what the world is coming to,” but “Look what is coming to the world.”

Even when the world is reduced to radiation and dust, and our cries of despair may echo in emptiness around us, our foundation is firm. Is anyone there? Can you hear me? EMMANUEL: GOD WITH US.

What’s in a name? More truth than we can comprehend, but an experience on which we can all lay hold. JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins; EMMANUEL God with us. 

Yes, this Christmas—Jesus/Emmanuel, Savior, ever-present Lord and Sustainer, today and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow—and for all eternity! “For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never put it out.”