Sunday, January 1, 2006

Name of Jesus or First Sunday after Christmas
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 8
Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21
First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name.

When I was pregnant with Victoria, I was absolutely certain that she was a boy. Bruce and I had decided that he would name the boy and I would name the girl. Since I was carrying a boy, I didn't need to worry about coming up with a name. One night very near to the birth Bruce said, "Honey, this really might be a girl. You should have a name prepared just in case." I said, "Fine" and blurted out "Victoria." Even though I had not spent much time thinking about it, I had been through all the books and for some reason that name was on the tip of my tongue.

I've never regretted the decision. Though Victoria had a few embarrassing years living in England (everything is named after Queen Victoria and she heard at least a few jokes from her friends), she seems to love her name. It certainly has not been troublesome like some of the names we hear these days. I recall an episode of "Seinfeld" when George was determined to name his not yet conceived son "Seven."

Celebrities are infamous for giving odd names to their children. Every day items or strange words become monikers that children have to live with for their rest of their lives or until they are old enough to reject what their parents gave to them. Apple, Banjo, Diezel and Brooklyn are just a few examples. Some people use their children's names to make a statement, political or otherwise like Destiny or Justice. Then there is just the bizarre such as Moon Unit or Moxie CrimeFighter.

Fortunately it is relatively easy and inexpensive to get a name change. It comes with marriage, divorce or adoption if you so choose. Other reasons might be more complicated and include filing papers through the courts. It is possible to change your name simply by common usage, which means you pick a name and consistently use it. If it is significantly different than your given name, then it is important to have it officially changed. But if you are called Michael and prefer Mike, it will catch on rather quickly if you just tell your friends it is what you want to be called.

Names often play an important role in stories. In the Shakespeare play "Romeo and Juliet" it was their name – and family relationships – that kept them apart. Juliet cries out "'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; -- thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…"

So, it is a wonder that we set aside one day a year to consider the name above all other names – that of Jesus. The Gospel lesson does not focus only on Jesus' name – as a matter of fact, the naming of Jesus takes only one verse in Luke. Mary and Joseph did not have to read through dozens of baby name books or think about which family members to honor by using their name. When they were visited by God's messengers, they were both told His name is Jesus. His naming happened as it should with all good Jewish boys – at His circumcision.

Earlier in this passage from Luke, we see the visit of the shepherds. They had been visited by a host of angels who gave them good news. "A child has been born." They did not sit around and wait to hear more or think about what had happened. They hurried off to find the child lying in a manger, just as was promised. When they found the child, they told His mother everything they had seen. She marveled at their story.

Can you imagine? She was a young virgin, without husband, and yet she was pregnant with – apparently – the Son of God. She knew this because she'd been visited by an angel. She gave birth in a place with a manger, taken there by Joseph her betrothed that accepted her despite her condition. He accepted the child because an angel had visited them. Then, after the birth, she was visited by a group of strangers – shepherds from the fields. This was all too unbelievable, but Mary believed. She listened and treasured all of these things in her heart.

They took Jesus to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. When everything according to the Law had been fulfilled, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord and offer their sacrifices. There they met two people, an old man and an old woman. Both had been waiting to see the child. First we meet Simeon who was called into the temple courts by the Holy Spirit. When he saw Jesus, he took Him in his arms and praised God for fulfilling His promises. We repeat his words in our liturgy, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation."

Again Mary and Joseph marveled. Truly this was an extraordinary child. Then they met the prophetess Anna who had devoted her life to prayer in the temple. She came up to them at that moment, praising God, and then went to tell everyone that redemption had come to Jerusalem. This child, this boy named Jesus, was truly special.

So why should we be so concerned about His name? By any other name, Jesus would still have been the salvation, the redemption, the promised child of God. Though it does not seem so in this day and age, names do mean something. Often the name itself has some special meaning. Other names are given to define a purpose or characteristic. God is given dozens of names in the scriptures – Creator, Almighty God, Father, the Lord our Righteousness, "I AM." Jesus is identified by certain names – the Light of the World, Savior, Redeemer, the Son of God. Even the Holy Spirit has a special name – the Counselor.

In the Old Testament, people were made part of Israel through a blessing – God's name was spoken over the people. "Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee: Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. So shall they put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them." They are blessed by the name of Jehovah. In the psalms, God's name is exalted. "O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens!" The Psalmist goes on to prophesy about Jesus. "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor." God's name is excellent, but the day would come when a new name would bring salvation. It is not the name of another god, but a new name for God – God in flesh, Immanuel.

Yes, the name of Jesus is especially important. It is by His name we are saved. Paul writes to the Philippians that the name of Jesus is the name above all other names, that at His name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. It is His name we take when we are baptized, we become Christians by faith. His name is written on our hearts and on our heads. In His name we are adopted and made heirs of the Kingdom of God.

And then as Christians we bear His name into all the world that all those who hear might be blessed and become heirs with us to the promises of God. Thanks be to God.

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