O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.
Emmanuel means “God with us.”
In the Eastern Rite, at Great Compline on 24 December (and again before Theophany) the clergy and choir sing “God is with us” over and over. “God is with us! Understand this, O ye nations and submit yourselves for God is with us!” At the same time a cantor is reading verses from the prophet Isaiah.
It can sound as if we’re singing “God’s on our side so here’s a finger for you heathen.”
But that’s not what’s being said here.
Emmanuel means “God is with us and not against us“. Not “God’s with us and not you“.
St Paul reminds us, “Quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiae, in caelestibus.” For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. – Ephesians 6:12. We have no human enemies. Our mission, to humans, is to save them: we can count no one as outside of our evangelistic reach. God’s with all humans in his image. It is entirely impossible for God not to be with that human being over there: although it is possible for them to spend their entire life pushing God away and to pretend God’s not there with us all. In the end, God’s presence may be rejected forever, but he’s not going away.
Our enemies, though: the ones God’s not with, are the demons: the ones who don’t want us to be with God who cry out always, “careful, don’t get sucked in there, you have to be yourself! Stand up to him! Tell him to back off, this is your space: you need your space!”
Emmanuel. God is with us!
The verse says God is the long-expected, but he comes in a way unexpected. Islam and Judaism both say that God has no body. Christianity, to the contrary, says God has both flesh and blood, has known death. God had diapers. God had the normal human functions of eating, drinking, of urination and defecation. God, being a male human, went through puberty and probably knows the heart-break of acne, a voice cracking at important moments during his bar mitzvah, and the teenage angst of involuntary erections. The scriptures say he who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps – but God is with us and he sleeps, dreams, tosses and turns, snores maybe, passing out on the ground from exhaustion, God wakes to find a stone has made a bruise on his back. These simple physical realities and embarrassments are part of being human and an absolute scandal to those who say God has no body.
God is with us!
My favorite image of the young Jesus is of a young toddler messing his clothes because he hasn’t figured out how to “go to the bathroom”. Younger than that and Jesus was probably naked a lot because that’s what you do when you don’t want to worry about messing up clothes with “baby functions”. Much easier just to bathe the baby…
God is with us!
As Fr Olivier Clement tells us, “True mysticism is to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary”: in every human action, God is with us. God nursed at his mother’s breast, teethed on her fingers, woke her up for a 2am feeding. Joseph, it’s your turn… Yes, honeyzzzzz.
God is with us: in this life, in this world. Everything is made a sacrament.
Recently in Spain a party stole over 200 consecrated hosts (the modern practice of “communion in the hand” comes into its own) and used them in an act of desecration called “art”. It is possible to use any sacrament in the wrong way: it is not, as St Paul says, appropriate to discuss what they do. But any sacrament, from communion to marital love can be desecrated. Any action of God in this world can be abused from birth to death. To be honest, I do sometimes get angry enough that I want to forget God has claimed the vengeance for himself, but he has and I cannot undo that. Desecration of the Holy Eucharist no less than desecration of marriage or human life is left for God to be the vengeful party. But God is with us means God is with the humans doing the desecration no less than those of us who weep at the same actions. It is a human doing the desecration, yes, but the actions are those of the demons. They have no bodies and need us to do their deeds.
God is with us: we can do his deeds as well, in the body, as he was. Our job is not to avenge God: but to be God’s actions of reconciliation and love even to those who are sinners.
God is with all of us sinners against the demons.
At Christmas, we celebrate wholeheartedly, the incarnation of God. But we tend to sentimentalize it. We make it about this tender moment “round yon virgin, Mother and Child.” We get wrapped up in a swaddling cloth of childhood memories and songs about a ‘sleigh bells in the snow”. But Christmas is about the most horrifying event in the world: the maker of all who is too large to be contained in the physical world, becomes a zygote, and then a baby in the womb of a human woman.
God is with us.
Understand this: and submit yourself.