New Year’s Day, the eighth day of Christmas.
The reading at Mass today is from Luke’s Gospel, about the shepherds visiting, and about naming Jesus. I was struck afresh by the name. Matthew’s Gospel also says that the child’s name is Jesus, but adds that, in accord with the Isaiah’s prophecy, he will be called Emmanuel.
Jesus means Savior. Emmanuel means God-with-us.
With us: what does that mean? I think it means that someone was visiting someone, that there was a host and guest – although it wasn’t necessarily clear which was which. When the King of the Universe comes to his own (and his own people debate whether to acknowledge him), who’s host, and who’s guest? Throughout Scripture, the issue of host/guest relations comes up over and over, and they are often intermingled – not in confusion, but in unity. They are brought together as one. The key images in Scripture of the unity of the Trinity are: (1) the Father/Son relationship, the two united by the Spirit of Love; and (2) marriage of the husband and wife, who are made one by the Spirit of Love, and (3) the unity of host and guest united by love, as at Mamre and the Visitation and indeed the Incarnation.
Which means: one aspect of the title “Emmanuel” is that it refers to God’s participation in a host/guest relationship with us. It’s about hospitality.
Jesus and Emmanuel: Savior and host/guest. The two names of Jesus correspond to the names of Moses’ children, Gershom and Eliezer. From Exodus 18: 3-4: “One of these was named Gershom; for he [Moses] said, ‘I am a resident alien in a foreign land.’ The other was named Eliezer; for he said, “The God of my father is my help; he has rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.” (Ger: stranger. El: God. Ezer: help.) The names of Moses’ children refer to hospitality and salvation, like the names Emmanuel and Jesus.
In John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Explaining this, he says that they call him Lord – and they should, because he is. But he adds carefully: this is what his lordship looks like! You serve, you wash the feet of your guests, like Abraham. That is, his lordship is – in large part – about hospitality. When we speak of Jesus as Lord and Savior, that lordship includes the Lord as Host at a banquet. Lord and Savior: this conjunction of two titles also echoes the names of Jesus and the names of Moses’ two sons.
Indeed, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to address God as Father, and to bless his name and affirm his will – and then to ask for bread and forgiveness – that is, for hospitality and salvation.
In our time, hospitality is often considered to be a minor matter, optional and decorative. But look at the pairs! Emmanuel and Jesus. Gershom and Eliezer. Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Lord and Savior. Hospitality and forgiveness.
Hospitality is a ray of light emanating from the fiery love that is the heart of the Trinity. Yes, it decorates. No, it is not merely decorative.