A Christmas Message from the Chaplain

W Bro Rev'd Aled Lewis

When do we start to celebrate Christmas?  Preparations seem to begin in September with the appearance of the Christmas sections in the shops, then from early November coloured lights start appearing in windows and gardens.  The sparkling tinsel and shining lights bring a relief this year again, lightening the gloom that surrounds us.

 

In early October I was fortunate enough to enjoy a couple of nights’ away in North Wales and visiting one of the little churches I go to, I was surprised to see their Christmas banner proudly displayed outside the church.  I thought to myself that it was a little early for a church to be proclaiming the good news of Christmas, but then I thought that perhaps for whatever reason they had not taken it down from last Christmas.

 

Beside a traditional image of the Nativity stable were the words from St Matthew’s Gospel:

““Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanu-el” (which means, God with us.)” (1:23)

During my few days of escape and relaxation I found myself thinking more and more about these words which have guided my thoughts as we look forward to celebrating the great Feast of Christmas.

 

Emmanuel’ is a name which we frequently encounter during the Seasons of both Advent and Christmas.  I know that the beautiful Season of Advent has begun when I hear the ancient words and haunting melody of the wonderful Advent anthem ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’.  A translation of words taken from the Latin Advent Antiphons which have been heard by generations of Christians as they keep Advent.

 

This year my Advent candle as well as having numbers, has a different Biblical title for Jesus for each day.  I was surprised to see that ‘Emmanuel’ was not among them but rather ‘Immanuel’, and initially I assumed that it was an Americanism.  However after looking in to it, ‘Emmanuel’ is only to be found in the verse in Matthew’s Gospel quoted above, and it is ‘Immanuel’ we find elsewhere in the Bible.

 

The words we hear in Matthew come immediately after an angel appears in a dream to Joseph when he is encouraged to take Mary as his wife, notwithstanding the fact that she is already pregnant.  Matthew is quoting the words of God by the Prophet Isaiah, but the actual words we find there are:

“Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman’u-el.” (7:14b)

The only other place we find the name Immanuel is in Isaiah 8:8 merely as a greeting.

 

Emmanuel’ is therefore derived from the Hebrew.  The words of the Prophet Isaiah can be interpreted as referring specifically to Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, or to his own son, or to the Messiah.  Equally it may not refer specifically to any individual but to future Divine deliverance, which is the interpretation of the prophecy given by the angel to Joseph.

 

It is surprising that such a well-known title for Jesus only appears twice in the Hebrew Bible and once in the New Testament.  The potency of the words in Matthew have rooted themselves in the traditional Christmas narrative.  Throughout that Gospel, historical events of Israel are applied to Jesus’ life, as a proof that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promises made in the Old Testament.

 

Matthew helpfully reminds us that Emmanuel in Hebrew means ‘God with us’.  In these three words Matthew emphasises that there is an element of Isaiah’s prophecy which is indeed appropriate only to Jesus and his miraculous birth.  The understanding of ‘God with us’ does not however end with Jesus’ birth, because the closing words of Matthew’s Gospel spoken by Jesus himself are:

““and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”” (28:20b)

 

While the image on the banner outside the church in North Wales was for the Season of Christmas, the words are for each and every day of the year, which is why we celebrate Christmas and what we celebrate at Christmas.  Our celebration of Christmas begins on Christmas Day (sun down on Christmas Eve) because we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, we celebrate the birth of God as man, the fact that God is with us.

 

God was ‘with’ the family of Israel in a very different way as we read in the Old Testament.  While God was intimate with the Patriarchs including Abraham and Moses, while he showed his power through obedient kings including David and Solomon, while he spoke by the Prophets and demonstrated his presence to the Israelites in many and various ways, the birth of Jesus heralded the beginning of a more intimate relationship between God and his created creatures.  A relationship which enables us to call God ‘our Father’ and a relationship which makes us children of God by adoption through Jesus Christ.

 

During his earthly ministry Jesus encountered the very best and the very worst of humanity.  He experienced the great joy and happiness of life, he experienced the terrible sorrow and pain of life.  As a consequence of that experience we know that God knows exactly what we experience, both in joy and the sorrow.  The very fact that we know that God is with us at all times brings great comfort and strength, knowing that we are not alone, and knowing that he strengthens and sustains us at all times.  Sometimes we are very aware of God’s presence, and sometimes it feels as though he has abandoned us, but the fact is that he is with us.

 

It is this reality which we especially celebrate on Christmas Day and during the whole Season of Christmas – the greatest gift ever given deserves at least twelve days of joyful festivity.  Too often we celebrate Christmas before Christmas Day which makes the day itself something of an anticlimax and the Season of Christmas a wind-down, the opposite of how it should be!  If we hold back a few days more, we will experience the true joy of Christmas, the fact that God has shared our human life, and that great blessing will prepare us for another year, knowing that God is with us every moment of our life.

 

This Christmas, let us keep in mind that everything we are doing is a special celebration of the fact that God is with each one of us, and perhaps as a New Year’s resolution to remind ourselves of that fact every morning throughout the New Year.  God’s presence with us, God’s sharing of everything we encounter, gives us the courage, the strength and the ability to persevere and fulfil our part in everything that is entrusted to us in this life.

 

Our response to Jesus’ birth, to God coming to us, is to adore the baby in the manger, God borne a man, and our Provincial Grand Master has thoughtfully chosen this beautiful Christmas carol written originally in Latin, with this English translation by the Catholic Priest Frederick Oakley:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!

O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the King of Angels
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

God of God, Light of Light
Lo, He abhors not the Virgin's womb
Very God
Begotten, not created
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
“Glory to God
All glory in the highest”
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

 

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning
Jesus, to Thee be glory given
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord!

 

I offer this prayer:

O Gracious Father, who sent not thy Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved: Fulfil the good tidings of thine angel and bring great joy to all people through the nativity of him who is the Prince of Peace; to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be glory in the highest, now and for evermore.  Amen.

 

May I wish you and those near and dear to you a peaceful and joyful Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year, knowing and trusting that God is indeed with us.

Dymunaf dangnefedd a gorfoledd y Nadolig i chi a’r rhai sy’n annwyl gennych ynghyd â iechyd a hapusrwydd gydol y Flwyddyn Newydd, gan wybod a chan ymddiried fod Duw gyda ni.

 

 

EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US

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