Emmanuel, the God who is with us
December 13th, 2016
By Father Charles Puthota
One Christmas Eve a man, sitting in his living room, suddenly heard the sound of geese. At the door he saw several geese wandering about in the snow. They were hungry, cold, and dazed. The man went out and tried to get the geese to go into his barn, but they were too frightened to understand.
Then he thought to himself, “If only I could be a goose for a moment and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. I could show them a safe way to the barn and save them. But I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear and understand.”
Suddenly it dawned on him. That was what Christmas was all about. It was, as Cyril Eagan would say, God making a five-sense breakthrough to humanity. It was about God in Jesus speaking our language, taking on our nature, and sharing our “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties.” Christmas means that God loves and cherishes us in ways we human beings can finally understand and accept.
Our God is Emmanuel, the God who is with us. This incarnational mystery is proclaimed by the word of God this Sunday before Christmas – in anticipation of the moving narratives of the birth of Jesus Christ, savior of the world, next weekend.
Paul in Romans summarizes salvation history using an ancient Christian creed. He gives us a glimpse into Jesus from two perspectives. One is that he “descended from David according to the flesh.” This is foretold in the most messianic of the prophesies from Isaiah in the first reading. The other perspective is that Jesus was “established as son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness .…” These two strands of Christology affirm the truth that Jesus is the son of Man and son of God. He is Emmanuel, God who descended to become man. He also descended in the line of David and ascended to be “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This Christology is again affirmed in the Gospel narrative. On the one hand, Jesus descended from David through Joseph and on the other, he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the perfect God-man, absolutely capable of dwelling with us and lifting us up to the heavenly realms. He speaks our language and understands us completely. He is the only one who can save us.
The name of Jesus itself means savior “because he will save his people from their sins.” Looking forward to Christmas, we are invited to deepen our understanding of what the birth of Jesus Christ is meant to accomplish. Jesus was born to save us, which he accomplished over 2,000 years ago through his death and resurrection. However, he is born all over again in our lives and in the world of today in order to continue his saving activity.
Jesus’ saving activity will “bring about the obedience of faith” which means we can hear God’s word and keep it; love God’s word and live it. Jesus is God’s word. He can speak our human word as well. When we can hear Jesus speak in the depths of our lives prompting us to say yes to his call of love, we receive in abundance “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
One of the most existential ways in which Jesus acts is to save us from ourselves. We are shackled by all kinds of loneliness and hopelessness, obsessions and angsts, our bitterness and biases. These may acutely be exacerbated by disease, decline, and death. We are powerless to free ourselves. We need Jesus now desperately to save us and bring us forgiveness of sins and fullness of life. This is how the birth of Jesus Christ can come about.
Father Puthota is pastor of St. Veronica Parish, South San Francisco, and director of Pastoral Ministry for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
From December 15, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.