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A deeply peaceful story

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"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us" (Mt 1:23).

I still remember the conversations vividly. A long car ride to Connecticut, deep into the third trimester with our first, discussing both boys’ and girls’ names at length because we didn’t know which it would be. A little boy insisting that we name his younger brother after a basketball star. A dinner table conversation nearly come to a shouting match as two big brothers vehemently propose "James Timothy," because Jimmy Timmy was just too good to pass up.

To name a child is to bestow a first and solemn blessing. It is such a privilege to be the one to decide what the world will call a child, the sounds by which he or she will be remembered and referred. I love to tell my children the stories of their names, and they still love to hear them.

"You were named during every radiation treatment. There was just enough time to offer three Hail Marys and then to beg the mother of John the Baptist to intercede on behalf of our fertility. I asked over and over to live and to be able to conceive, carry, bear and raise healthy, happy, holy, beautiful children."

"You were named for your father and your grandfather. We thought long and hard about this combination. You were first, and every name in the universe was open to us. But we chose these. Then you were born — nine days late — on what would be your name day. It felt like God winked and said, ‘Well done.’"

"You were named for Sarah, the old woman who found that she was pregnant unexpectedly. Her laughter filled their world — utter joy and delight to be carrying at last the answer to so many prayers. And you were also named Anne, the middle name of your mother and all three of your grandmothers. That was exceedingly convenient because two of your brothers said they’d never call you Sarah and you would always be Annie to them. Twelve years later, both names are very much yours."

God takes the naming of a baby very seriously. He told the world well in advance that the Messiah would be named Emmanuel. When the Jewish people heard Isaiah’s prophecy, they surely didn’t even consider taking it literally. Emmanuel means "God is with us." Still, it is likely no one imagined that God would become flesh and come as a baby to live and grow among them, to be physically with them until the end of time. God with us as a baby, with us as a teacher, with us fully present in the Eucharist. From the prophecy to the Jews to Joseph’s dream to the moment in the manger when Jesus was born to the Last Supper, God had a plan. Every detail was more than we could imagine, right down to the details of his holy name.

God says he will be called Emmanuel. Throughout Scripture, God is called by many names, but the name we hear in the last O Antiphon before Christmas is the one that fulfills the promise of a companion to accompany us every day. He is truly God and he is truly with us.  And it is all mystery and miracle.

We live in the here and now; we focus on today. In that cave in Bethlehem, faithful people knew God’s word. They knew the prophecy, though surely they didn’t understand how it would come to fruition. There was joy in that moment, and there must have been fear as well. How is this God’s plan, and how will he protect and provide for us as we live it?

We wonder too. And in the wonder, Christmas comes to us as a gift and a grace: The unexpected God with the unexpected, nearly inexplicable name, come to live with us and to redeem us. Little baby, Son of the great and good God who sees the big picture and knows that there is a wise, deeply peaceful story unfolding here, you are our greatest joy. And if you are with us, no one can truly be against us. Holy is your name.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020