Mary will bear a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
Yeshua. God saves. That’s what the Hebrew means. Jesus. God saves.
That’s one of the angel’s main points to St. Joseph. The child has been conceived in ineffable holiness by God. The human child of your beloved Mary—the child is divine. And the divine child comes to save. You can’t name Him Xerxes or Thor or Qin Shi Huang–you can’t name Him anything but Jesus, because the whole point is: God saves. God comes to be with His people, in the flesh—in order to save His people.
Okay. Two points.
1. Salvation. From what? From slavery to ourselves, our limitations, our unshakable self-destructiveness. Salvation from interior darkness, ignorance, malice. Salvation from our incurable smallness. Salvation from pointlessness.
People say that mankind has lost the sense of sin. The popes of the twentieth century said this. But getting our sense of sin back is as easy as submitting to the questioning of any four-year-old.
‘Listen, daddy has to make money.’ ‘Why?’ ‘We need money so that you can go to college.’ ‘Why?’ ‘You need to go to college so that you can get a good job.’ ‘Why?’ ‘You need a good job so that you can drive a nice car.’ ‘Why?’ ‘You need a nice car to help you attract the right wife.’ ‘Why?’ ‘You need a good-looking wife so that your friends will be impressed.’ ‘Why?’ ‘You need to impress your friends so you get plenty of respect.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Listen, boy! I don’t know!’ ‘Why don’t you know?’
The four-year-old will make us realize that we have a problem. Why? Why? Why? What’s my point? Why do I do what I do? What’s my goal—my real fundamental goal?
If the answer doesn’t involve God—Almighty God, the glory of God, the One Who molded me out of human clay in my mother’s womb, the One Who made me to be something so beautiful that only He can truly conceive it—if I don’t have an answer to all the Why?s, an answer that has to do with eternity, fulfillment, consummation…Without God, when the Why?s keep coming at me, all I can do is run away, as if an honest question about the meaning of life were incoming machine-gun fire—without God, I will get desperate. I will do destructive, unworthy things.
I need God to save me.
Yeshua. God saves. Why? Why am I? Why do I exist? Does this question have an answer?
Yeshua, it does. And the answer comes from Jesus: I exist because of infinite love. I exist because the mind that made the heavens and the earth has a plan to make something glorious out of me—something utterly, completely, and totally worthwhile.
2. Which brings us to the other thing to remember about the Holy Name of Jesus, and about the angel coming to Joseph—and the angel coming to Mary, too, for that matter. The other thing to remember is: the context. The context of what we read in the gospel for Holy Mass, Fourth Sunday of Advent.
A people. An ancient people, who could understand what ‘Yeshua’ meant, because the name fulfilled perfectly what Moses heard at the burning bush. The eyes of their souls stared up toward God. They waited for the ancient Lord, Who had liberated them from slavery in Egypt and promised them a good, a fruitful life—they waited for Him to fulfill what He had spoken to their fathers.
This people of the ancient Covenant never excelled in elegance or Epicureanism. They never exported fine wines across the Mediterranean, or carved statues worthy of the British Museum. The best ancient Jewish poetry sounds clunky compared to any famous Renaissance sonnet. The Jews did not seem to have anything particularly special about them, like the Greeks did, or the Romans, or the Egyptians.
Except: Israel was the people of divine faith. The people who knew that God stood closer to us than our own noses. So the Israelite could say: ‘Yeah, sure you can say that such-and-such a person experienced such-and-such a cure of their illness because a Greek-speaking doctor prescribed warm baths and a change in diet. Sure. But the main reason he was cured is: because God wills it. Or: Sure, you can say that the stars move that way in the sky because of the different orbits and galaxies, etc.—like the Persian astronomers say. Sure. But the main reason the stars move that way is: because God wills.
Why? Why? Why? Why anything? Israel’s answer: Because God wills.
This nation produced Joseph, and Mary. The angel came to this context, to this people, the people who had been bred over 42 unbroken generations to understand that all things happen because God wills. And the angel declared: God wills to save.