By Sr. Dolores Schuh, CHM
For the past three weeks our holy season of Advent has been competing with a veritable blizzard of secular distractions such as shopping, decorating, office and home partying, baking, card writing, gift giving and gift receiving. Our heads have been filled with holy day and holiday melodies ranging from religious hymns like “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” to silly ditties like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” But on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, we are brought front and center to the authentic message of the Advent season and our celebration of Christmas.
Some writers choose to reflect on St. Joseph’s compassion and righteousness when he learns that his virgin bride is pregnant, as told in Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew.
However, Matthew soon cuts through the whirl of words to give us just one single word that perfectly sums up in four syllables the meaning of the Christmas message. This word is Emmanuel. Matthew picked up this word and its meaning from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah who foretold that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
The wonder-word, Emmanuel, is not a common, kitchen word of our everyday vocabulary. Here and there we find this name attached to a church, a synagogue or a hospital. But it is quite rare to find a son named Emmanuel. Given the appearance of this word in Sunday’s Gospel, we can rejoice that it so wonderfully sums up the true spirit of Christmas. The four syllables of the word, Em-man-u-el are translated into those four important words: God is with us.
Emmanuel is the one word that best describes what Christmas is all about. This single word assures us that our God, Jesus, is not against us, nor is he far away from us. Rather he is with us. Yes, he may be out on some far- away planet of the universe, but he is also right here. He is not only living with us day by day, minute by minute, but even marvelously living within us, heart to heart. We cannot get any closer to Jesus than to proclaim him our genuine, authentic Emmanuel, God-with-us. Jesus is truly our heart and soul mate.
Our status as the dwelling place of Emmanuel is confirmed when we recall the theological truth that each one of us is truly a temple of God. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, confidently asserts, “. . . you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you. . .The temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor 3:16-17). Far from his being lost and hidden from us in the immeasurable distance of divine life, Jesus is truly living in us and with us, everywhere and always.
Knowing and acknowledging the presence of our newly-found Emmanuel gives our celebration of Christmas, which is now just days away, a whole new measure of joy, peace, confidence and strength. Our Christmas gift giving and gift receiving produce a brand new dimension when we proclaim that Jesus is Emmanuel, our divine gift coming to us all wrapped in the same human flesh and blood of our earthly existence.
Today (this fourth Sunday of Advent) we are so very privileged to approach the altar to receive our Christmas Christ, our Emmanuel Jesus. Today we reaffirm our receiving “The Body of Christ” with a joyful, exuberant, and grateful “Amen.”