‘God has a name!’
Well we’re almost there! The fourth Advent candle has been lit, our crib is up and your preparations are well under way, I’m sure. This week, we’re probably going to make a whole series of ‘O Exclamations…’: O, I forgot to order the turkey; O, I forget to send a card to this person or O, I forgot to invite that person! That’s inevitable as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. However, this week the liturgy of the Church offers us an opportunity to enter into a different set of ‘O exclamations’ or ‘O antiphons’, as they are called.
Each evening, we Friars gather in our chapel, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, for an hour of meditation and prayer, we pray the Divine Office: the Prayer of the Church. Each evening, included in that prayer is Mary’s great exclamation, the Magnificat…through which Mary proclaims the greatness of God for having chosen her to be the one to bring forth Christ into the World. The God-human dynamic moves to a whole new level in Jesus Christ, to a very personal and intimate level. St Francis, St Clare and St Bonaventure all attest to the fact that it is Jesus who makes all things make sense. It is in, through and with Him whom who all things were created and hold their being that we can come to know God, ourselves, others and all of creation in a new and refreshing way.
An antiphon is said before and after this and in the final days before Christmas these antiphons become a series of ‘O exclamations’ that speak of our wonder, our joy and our anticipation as we count down the days to the great feast of Christmas; the time when we enter into the great Mystery of God becoming human. The last of these, recited on the 23rd of December is ‘O Emmanuel…you are Our King and Saviour…O Come, and save us’ … but save us from what? Well, from ourselves really. What do I mean? Let me explain…
When we celebrate Christmas we are celebrating the fact that God took on human form and dwells with us. In today’s Gospel, we hear the angel reassuring Joseph and giving Joseph the name to call the child that is to be born ‘he is to be called Jesus because he will save people from their sins’. I’m sure we have head this line from scripture many times before however, if we pause for a moment we can begin to realise just how earth shattering that sentence actually is…His name will be Jesus…For the first time, God has given us his name!
When Moses approached the burning bush and said to God ‘the people are asking who you are, what should I tell them? God responded ‘tell them, I am who am’…in other words, my name is unpronounceable to you. You see, when we know somebody’s name…we can call him or her by it whenever we like, in a way, we have a certain control over them. God has given us His name and invites us to call Him by it whenever we like. In other words, he invites us into relationship with him in a way never seen before. In the OT the covenant was the relationship but in the Incarnation, what we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus is the relationship.
Christ comes to us in love to save us from the fear and anxiety caused by thinking that we are on our own and somehow disassociated from God, we are not. God is with us, that’s the Good News! He saves us from ourselves because we, as human beings, become afraid. Bishop Robert Barron in his excellent series on Virtue and Vices says that ‘fear is at the root of all sinfulness’ because when we live out of a place of fear we become bent over by pride, envy, greed and all of the other big vices.
What is God’s message of salvation in all of this? Well maybe we can listen to the angel, the messenger of God who in today’s Gospel, in fact ALL angels in all of scripture, always greet those they encounter with the words … do not be afraid. We can expand this message a little by saying ‘ do not be afraid…I am with you…I know you…I love you and you are mine. Come to me…come follow me…I am the living water…and I have come so that you can have life to its fullest.’
God has a name…it is Emmanuel…God with us. It is Jesus…it is Mercy…It is Wisdom…it is Joy, Peace, Love and much more. It is a name we know. As St Paul tells us, ‘we have the Spirit within us’ and so we can call on the name of Jesus and not only that but we have been ‘justified in the name of Jesus’ (1Cor6). To be justified means that things are in their right place, that we are in right-relationship and therefore that we are saved in Jesus. Our response, is to live as saved people and to bring this good news to others by virtue of how we live our lives.
The Saviour who is with us has come to lead us from darkness into light, from a place of fear to a place of hope-filled trust. He comes gently, humbly and constantly into a dark corner, of a small town, in a nondescript part of the world, into the care of two refugees who have nothing and nowhere. Paradoxically, it is they, Mary and Joseph, who are ultimately dependant upon him.
The crib teaches us the true meaning of humility as the antidote to pride, of true hospitality as the antidote to envy and true giving as the antidote to greed.
This is what Christmas is all about…this is what we are preparing for and this is why the Church cries out these O antiphons this week…O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O King, O Key of the Nations, O Rising Sun, O Emmanuel.
So maybe this week, as we make our final practical preparations for Christmas, we can also allow some time and space to prepare our hearts, minds and souls to welcome, once more, the Light of the nations, the Hope of all Peoples, The Joy of the World, The Word made Flesh, the one who has a name, and that name is Jesus. Amen.
Brother Martin Bennett OFM Cap.
Vocations Promoter of the Irish Capuchin Franciscans.