1/1/2017 Name of Jesus The text is from Luke 2:15-21.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Happy New Year, everyone! In this time of new beginnings, this time in which we remember the past and look forward to the days and weeks ahead, some of us greet this time of the new year with a sigh of relief, and others enter it full of hope that maybe, just maybe, this will be the year in which long-awaited dreams will come true.
The long-awaited dreams of many people came true in Bethlehem eons before any of us were twinkles in our parents’ eyes. Without the fanfare and revelry of a New Year’s Eve celebration, a baby was born, a son was given who would usher in new possibilities and new life. So it seems right, that on the eighth day of Christmas that we continue to celebrate that birth by hearing again a piece of Luke’s Christmas story with the 21st verse tacked on – “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.”
It was on the eighth day of Christmas, eight days after the birth in Bethlehem, that Mary and Joseph, following the law of Moses, brought their newborn son into the temple to be circumcised and officially named. On the eighth day this child was given an identity in the Jewish community and was made a child of God’s promise.
Today, we don’t wait eight days to name our children. Names are often given to babies before they are born. With the increased use of ultrasounds, parents have the opportunity to see their baby before it is even born. Photos and videos of the child are taken while in the womb. So, the game of guessing a child’s gender is taken away. And knowing if the baby is a boy or a girl, makes choosing a name a lot easier.
In our world, a name provides a label. In biblical times, a name was more than just an identifier. A name gave insight into a person’s character or parentage or, at least, into the parent’s hopes and dreams of who this child would become when reaching adulthood. Each name carried a meaning. Each name was an expression of the very nature of a person or place. Each name revealed significant detail about its bearer. So, naming a child was not a matter of going through a baby book or watching a TV program or going online to check the list of names ranked by popularity, meaning or national origin. Biblical names carried power – a special power which was attached to the naming of all things.
So it was with the name, Jesus. This name, Jesus, literally means “He will save,” and it is the name delivered by an angel to be given to the child conceived by the Holy Spirit, the only begotten son of God. It is a name that carried meaning and gives insight into God’s purpose and promise for this child. The entire mission of the child is summed up in his name.
It would take thirty years or so for the name to be fulfilled. In the passage of time, the child would become a man. And that man would listen to the wishes of his heavenly Father. He would travel with a small band of followers. He would preach the good news of salvation. He would call people to repentance. He would heal the sick and give sight to the blind. He would touch the lives of many with the grace given to him from on high. And, he would lay down his life in obedience to his Father’s will; he would give it up in order to take it up again. And, in so doing, he would wipe away the sin that keeps us from God. He would mend the broken relationship, build a bridge between us and God and open the gates of heaven for eternity. The people who believe in the power of Jesus will be saved, for his name accomplishes its meaning.
Our names do not have such a power connected with them, even though what we are called affects us, and I’m not just talking about what appears on the birth certificate. If we are lovingly called, “Stinky,” or “Twiddle Britches” by our parents, the name can have an effect on how people relate to us. If we go by the name, “Killer,” or “Skin Head” others may want to stay away from us. Some names people call us, like “Stupid” or “Fatty,” can hurt. Other names, like “Sweetie” and “Honey,” can make us feel loved. So, what we are called matters.
Names are significant, but no name is more powerful in all the earth than that of Jesus, the name given through an angel to an unborn child. For in the name of Jesus, God accomplishes his purpose. God saves his people. All that is left is for this world to recognize the salvation which God has delivered through his Son who so appropriately was given the name above all other, Jesus.
It is in his name that we are washed in the waters of rebirth. It is the name of Jesus that empowers us to serve others in this world – to proclaim the good news in words and deeds, and to reach out to others in their needs with the grace and compassion of our Lord. And, it is with his name on our lips that we begin the new year.
The New Year is not a major religious celebration for the church because it plays no part in salvation history. But, the new year gives us an opportunity to remember once more the story of Christmas and a birth that took place long ago, to remember a name and a savior who bears it, and to remember that we have a future secured by God. God has been our help in ages past and will be there to help for years to come. So, no matter what happens in the year to come, our Emanuel, our God is with us. We will never have to meet the challenges of this world on our own.
So, let us begin this new year by remembering a name and the person, Jesus. For unto us a Son was given, a savior was born, and he was named Jesus for he came to save the world. May we find in his name our future and the fulfillment of our long-awaited dreams. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.