Isaiah 7:10-16/ Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19/ Matthew 1:18-25
Emmanuel: Sign of Love
Let us talk about love. A lot of novels, movies, TV dramas, and popular songs are full of love stories. Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love,” although we also need other things such as food and housing. There are a lot of different types of love; there is the romantic love called Eros, friendship or siblings’ love called Philia, and the unconditional love of God called Agape. These are Greek words. Love may be the most overused word and concept in our lives, but not all loves are equal.
Today’s key word from the scripture readings is Emmanuel, or “Immanuel” as it is written in the Book of Isaiah. Matthew’s Gospel kindly explains to its readers that Emmanuel means “God is with us.” You see, the readers of the Hebrew Bible, which includes the Book of Isaiah, didn’t need translation because it’s a Hebrew word. But not all Christians know Hebrew.
As we have learned during our story time two weeks ago, in Matthew, angel visits Joseph to announce the birth of Jesus, not Mary. Leaving aside our feminist resentment, Joseph’s acceptance of the pregnant fiancée can be seen as an act of love. Since arranged marriage was the norm back then, we can’t tell if the two were in love. Therefore, it is possible that his act of love was a general love for another human being who could be disgraced and put to death. Whichever was the case, it doesn’t change the fact that his choice was based on love.
“Young Woman” vs “Virgin”
The angel in Matthew chapter 1 quotes Isaiah, saying, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Now listen to what Isaiah actually said: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The greatest difference between these two books is “young woman” vs. “virgin.”
The original Hebrew word in Isaiah means “young woman” but when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, this word was translated into “virgin.” This Bible is called Septuagint (from the number 7) because, according to the legend, 70 people participated in this translation work. We should understand this as the theological interpretation of the translators of the Septuagint Bible. This is why a lot of Christians teach and believed that the mother of Jesus had to be a virgin although it is not what Isaiah’s prophesy actually said.
Being With Someone: Sign of Love
Therefore, putting the “virgin vs. young woman” debate aside because it is not important, let us move on to the name Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Being with someone is actually a great act of love although we don’t usually perceive it.
Good parents don’t abandon their children no matter what; that is love. My piano teacher has a colleague who had to sacrifice her job to take care of her mother suffering cancer with whom she had not had a good relationship. That is love. Sticking around to take care of a spouse after a horrific accident or with a terrible disease is love. In the Book of Job, Job’s friends came and simply sat with him, crying in silence, for seven days and nights, when he lost everything. That is love. After a failed relationship, Mike cancelled his plan with his cousin to come and be with me. That is when I realized he was my best friend. All these examples of being with someone are acts of love. God’s promise to be with God’s people is an ultimate sign of the divine love.
We can be with different people while making small and big sacrifices out of love. Our relationship with God is very similar to our human relationships. God is with us through good and bad experiences in life, holding us closely to give us strength. As today’s psalmist sang, God’s face shines on us and gives us peace. God feeds us and cares for us even when we cry out to God in agony. For this steadfast love, we can confess along with our psalmist that we will never forsake God. Jesus came to teach God’s people that God is always with them. God being with us is the greatest sign of God’s love for us, like a loving parent who never abandons or gives up on their children.
Today’s lesson on Advent love is choosing to be with people who need us. Let us give thanks for God’s promise to be with us. Let us learn this love from Jesus and love those in our lives and in our local and global communities with our attentive presence. Donating our resources to local food banks or sending our gifts through Gifts with Visions along with prayers of love are some of the ways we can emulate God’s Emmanuel love. I pray that during this season and every day in the future, you will know and feel God’s love of being with us, and become the embodiment of this love to those who need God’s love and hope.