Friday, December 30, 2016
What’s In a Name? (Luke 2:1-21) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel
What’s in a name? Not much really. It’s just a word, a sound, a label. Names tend to capture our attention at different times in life, even at Christmas. Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in the nondescript town of
2000 years ago, is the largest celebration around the world each year. It’s astounding. His birthday brings out massive crowds and
traffic jams in places like Rome, New York City, Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Jerusalem. And like all babies, after this child was
born, his parents gave him a name.
The Gospel of Luke says: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
Perhaps names are after all important We get rather attached to them. Parents trying to decide on what to name their newborn is a big undertaking in our culture. A five-year old boy who lives next door to our home, is always surprised when I say, “Hi Daniel.” He replies, “You know my name?” I’m thinking yes Daniel, because you told me your name a few times.
We are sensitive about people mispronouncing our names or calling us by the wrong name. Our identity is wrapped up in our name. Names are critical in genealogy, when exploring one’s heritage, one’s family tree. To be called “Hey you” or “You, over there” all your life would be dehumanizing.
Why did your parents select your name? We are often called different names by people over time, pet names, nick names, etc. Upon returning to San Diego where I was born, after we had been away for 33 years, during which people called me Alan, it sounded strange to once again hear friends I grew up with calling me” Al.”
Why did you choose certain names for your children? Matthew, our first son is named after the first book of the New Testament. We decided not to name our second son Mark because we knew we would go through life with people asking - “So where are Luke and John?” While watching Olympic speed skater Eric Heiden during the 1980 Olympics, we decided we liked the name Eric and chose that name for our second son.
Yes, names are important. A minister friend told me about a wedding he officiated at. Afterward, the family approached him and said: “
it was a beautiful wedding, but our daughter’s name is Jennifer not Janet.” Names are sometimes rooted in the family, like
Johnson, the son of John. Puritans in 17th
century New England gave their children names
that reflected Christian virtues, like Purity, Prudence, Chastity and Charity. Children are named after occupations like
Shoemaker or Baker. Today, naming a
child after an occupation doesn’t fit quite as well: “This is my son Project
Manager or this is my daughter software engineer.”
The Bible employs numerous names for Jesus. In fact, there are over 200 names and titles for Christ found in the Bible. Don’t worry, we won’t review them one-by-one. A mother writes: “While watching the movie The Ten Commandments on television, our four-year-old daughter Melissa learned that one of God's names in the Old Testament is Yahweh, which is best translated "I Am That I Am." During the following week, true to her contrary style, Melissa strode about the house announcing: "I'm not that I'm not.”
Today, Christmas Day, we pause to reflect upon the names for the child born in
Bethlehem. The Gospel writer John called him
Logos, the Word, the Light, and also, the Son of God. Matthew called him the King of the Jews.
The Gospel writer Luke called him Jesus! “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The contemporary song writer Bill Gaither wrote a song titled: "Jesus, There's Just Something About That Name."
Jesus in Greek literally means "Savior” or” One who Saves," a name which shows forth God’s purpose in sending Jesus to the world, to bring salvation, to save us from our sins.
Scripture says the wages of sin is death. Jesus saves us from sin, guilt, evil and death. God forgives our sins in Jesus and reconciles us to Himself. Jesus saves us from self-centeredness and sets us free to love others. Jesus saves us to give us a new beginning, a new start in our lives. Jesus saves us from darkness and brings us into the light. Jesus saves us to love God and to love others. That’s why God sent Jesus, to bring salvation to the world.
The Greek word which Matthew uses for Jesus is “Christ or Christos” which is a title, and means God’s Anointed one. Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek are titles, both meaning God’s anointed one. God’s anointed Jesus to be the spiritual leader of
the one the Jews were long awaiting.
Christ brings God’s Kingdom on earth, not a political kingdom, not a military kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom. One enters God’s kingdom through conversion, by making a confession of faith in Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. Christ came to be your leader, your ruler, your king, your deliverer. God anointed Christ to lead us and guide us and empower us through the struggles and disappointments and decisions of our daily lives.
Another name Matthew uses is Emmanuel! We read: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel which means ‘God with us.’” This is a name about Jesus’ presence and power. It’s no wonder the angel said; “Do not be afraid.” You lose your fear when you know God is near you each and every day of your life. Immanuel says you are not alone: God is with you. God is for you, God is within you. It means we have the opportunity to walk daily with God. We can have a personal relationship with God in Christ.
Each name for Jesus is special, meaningful; each name highlights a particular aspect of Jesus’ identity and mission. No one name can contain him. No one name can explain him. No one name can limit or hold him. There is power when you call upon this name, the power to change your life, the power to save, the power to lead, the power to begin again, the power for renewal, the power for liberation.
Today we celebrate the story of the love and power of God come down from heaven as a newborn baby named Jesus. It’s a story which can’t be bound to a single name, because Jesus is too great. Jesus is greater than any one name. Jesus is instead magnified by the names given to him. What’s in a name? Perhaps more than you can imagine.
I close with this quote from Philippians: “God gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.” Amen!