In these last days before Christmas the sense of expectation in the Church’s liturgy intensifies as a treasure trove of biblical imagery is drawn together to convey the sense of a people longing for the coming of their saviour, longing for the coming of Christ. The famous ‘O antiphons’ that we sing at vespers from the 17th December until the 23rd are an excellent example of this. Each ‘O antiphon’ is based around one of Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming Messiah. Tonight, for example, we will sing:
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Now ‘Adonai’ is a Hebrew word that simply means Lord. Traditionally this word was pronounced whenever the Hebrews came across the Divine name in the Scriptures. Israel never uttered the Tetragrammaton - the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush - as a sign of their devotion and respect. God is so holy that even his name is consecrated, set apart. Yet Israel continued to hope that this God who is so far above us that we do not dare speak his name might someday rescue his people. In our first reading we heard this hope expressed by Isaiah who prophesied that the Lord will raise up ‘a righteous shoot of David’, and that in his days ‘Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell in security’.
The beginning of this saving intervention through the Son of David is recounted in tonight’s Gospel from Matthew which is of course so familiar to us. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, son of David, but ‘before they lived together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit’. This took place to fulfil what the Lord has said through the prophet:
‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shallname him Emmanuel’ which means ‘God with us’.
And the wonder of the Incarnation is that ‘God is with us’, not in the sense that God was with King David all those years before, it is not just that God strengthened and supported the Messiah so as to save his people. God took human nature in Mary’s womb and so is with us, as one of us. Now we can pronounce the name of God: we can pronounce the name of Jesus, the name at which every knee shall bow, because in Jesus God has become part of our human family. In Jesus, God enters the human community. He became like us so that through Him with Him and in Him, we can address God not only as our Lord, but also as our Father.