Bishop's Message

The Two Names

Dec 2011    

‘Jesus’ and ‘Immanuel’ have profound meaning and say something of the identity of the baby


“The eyes of her baby confirmed all that Mary saw – for she saw in them the majesty, holiness and love of God.”

THERE WAS SOMETHING about the baby that made them bow in worship. The professional star-gazers (otherwise known as magi), who finally found the baby after a long and arduous journey, must have seen something in the eyes of the baby – a window to that which is eternal.

The baby looked like any other child, but the eyes must have revealed something mysterious. The star-gazers must have seen something of that mystery and eternity they tried to find whenever they looked up at the vast night sky. There was something different about this baby – and it made them bow and worship (Mt. 2:11).

The shepherds who saw the baby were gripped by a similar sense of awe (Lk. 2:8-20). They were not star-gazers, but sheep-watchers. Their lives were more mundane, having to take care of the sheep entrusted to their care – feeding them and guarding them. But their ordinary lives were disrupted by the astounding scene of a messenger from heaven who brought good news of the birth of the Saviour. The angel was joined by others who sang for the simple shepherds the most beautiful of songs. It was mind-boggling and spirit-stirring.

When the shepherds finally saw the baby, they must have seen in his eyes something out of this world. They perhaps instinctively knew from the baby’s eyes that God, the Shepherd of Israel, was watching over His people. Thrilled by what they witnessed, they became the channels of the rapid spread of the good news. Their hearts became new sanctuaries full of praise and worship.

Mary must have gazed at the eyes of her new-born child. The angel who appeared to her had told her that her child would be called the Son of God (Lk. 1:35). She knew that she had carried in her womb and given birth to divinity. It was too difficult to understand, but the appearance of angels, the response of those who visited the baby, and other evidences told her that it was true – the impossible had happened (Lk. 1:37). The eyes of her baby confirmed all that she saw – for she saw in them the majesty, holiness and love of God. It was such a momentous experience that she was unusually quiet with deep reflection, cherishing what she saw in her believing heart (Lk 2:19).

Before Jesus was born, he was given two proper names: Jesus and Immanuel (Mt. 1:21-23). Both had profound meaning and said something of the identity of the baby. The name Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) was a common name among the Jews, but it was not the uniqueness of the name (or the lack of it) but the uniqueness of the God who assumed that name that was astounding. Joshua (meaning “ The Lord saves”) became the name of the son who would “save the people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).

As the life of this heavenly child unfolded for the next 30 years or so, it became clear how this was to be achieved. He was no less than the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Millions of people through history have found this Saviour, and tens of thousands of songs have been written about His wonderful salvation.

There was another name given to the God-Child. The name Immanuel means “God with us” and comes from the prophecy by Isaiah (Isa. 7:14). e name Immanuel was particularly precious and comforting to Isaiah as he foresaw the trouble that was ahead – the destruction of God’s land and people by powerful Assyria (cf. Isa. 8:1-10). Though trouble was brewing, the truth that God was with His people steadied the mind and strengthened the heart.

That same name for this new-born child brought great comfort to the righteous who saw the dark clouds gathering around them. History tells us that Jerusalem would be totally sacked in a few decades, and the temple would become burnt-up rubble. The name Immanuel reminds God’s people that what the eyes see need not bring fear into the hearts of believers. Instead the heart of the believer is made sturdy and resilient by the truth of the God who is with us.

It was for this reason that Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles who suffered much in the hands of his violent enemies, could testify near the end of his constantly-persecuted life that though everyone deserted him, “the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength” (2 Tim. 4:16-17). Paul knew his Saviour and his eternal and faithful Companion. Likewise, John Wesley’s last words were “ e best of all is, God is with us.”

It must be noted that Matthew, who begins his Gospel with the birth of Jesus the Immanuel, ends with Jesus promising, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). We remember that “I am” is the name of God and, therefore, the Gospel begins and ends with the truth that God is with us. What a wonderful truth and experience to those who really believe!

The two names of the Son of God reveal His mission and the purpose of the Incarnation. The marvellous truth of Christmas is that God broke into our helpless existence to save us and to be with us.

When I was a youth, I came across the idea that the Incarnation may be explained through Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2 – that energy can be converted into matter. But God is far greater than mere energy (which by the way is also a created reality), and surely the Incarnation cannot be merely explained by scientific equations. e Incarnation is infinitely far grander than that, for it has to do with the self-giving actions of a God who is rich in mercy and full of divine love.

Soren Kierkegaard speaks of the contrast between the magi who were seeking Christ and the scribes in Jerusalem who were smugly lost in their familiar information about the Messiah.

“What a contrast! The [magi] had only a rumour to go by. But it spurred them to set out a long, hard journey. The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed.

They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons. But it didn’t make any difference. Who had the more truth? Those who followed a rumour, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with all their knowledge?”

The most important thing is our response to the amazing truth of Christmas – whether our knees bend in worship, whether our hearts become sanctuaries of praise as we discover our Saviour God and our heavenly Companion.


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