She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21)
In William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, the two lovers have a dialogue about their own names. It begins with Romeo hearing Juliet call his name: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” Later in the dialogue, Romeo responds: “It is my soul that calls upon my name: How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears!”
This quote has been paraphrased to something like: “there’s nothing so sweet as the sound of one’s own name.” And even if we don’t read Shakespeare or understand poetry, we can relate to that. We like hearing our own name, as long as it’s used by someone we love rather than taken in vain!
In today’s readings, we’re given two names for Christ. In Isaiah we hear the prophecy relating to the coming of “Emmanuel,” born of a virgin. In Matthew’s Gospel, the angel tells Joseph that the child born of the Virgin Mary will be called “Jesus.” God is the one who provides these two names. And we might reflect upon them as we approach Christmas.
Emmanuel or Immanuel consists of two Hebrew words: ??? (’El, meaning ‘God’) and ???????? (?Imm?n?, meaning ‘with us’). And Jesus comes from a Greek translation of the Hebrew-Aramaic ???????? (Y?šû?‘), meaning “Yahweh saves.”
These two names signify actions of God. He “is with us,” and He “saves us.” And the grammatical tense of the two phrases has tremendous importance for us. When God gave these names to Ahaz and Joseph, He didn’t say “God will be with us” or “Jesus will save.” He didn’t say “God was with us” or “Jesus did save.” God spoke in His own eternal present. And that’s how we need to understand Christ – the eternal Son of the Father who became man.
Christ is with us. Christ saves us. He entered our temporal created world through the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And He promised us He’d never leave us. And so His eternal presence is meant to be experienced not as a nostalgic return to a manger in Bethlehem, but by His living presence in the Eucharist. And that’s a name that’s sweet enough to taste.
(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty