What’s in a Name?

The Name Of Jesus

Traditional Worship January 1, 2017

And he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  (Luke 2:21)

We are talking onomastics … or onomatology to be more precise … which is “the study of the history and origin of proper names, especially personal names.”   You can learn all about onomatology on the American Name Society website, a society founded in 1951 and whose mission is “to promote onomastics, the study of names and naming practices, both in the United States and abroad.”  Now, if that doesn’t get your heart rate beating ten or twenty beats per second faster, you could also try reading the journal of the American Name Society, cleverly titled … “Names: A Journal of Onomastics.”  In that journal you could read articles like … “Medical Eponym Angst” … or “Unforgettable: The Lives and Passing of Three US American Onomastic Icons” … or my favorite, “Intergenerational Analysis of Patronymic Transformations in the Quebec (Canada) Population Since the Seventeenth Century.”  I apologize to the onomatologists in the room, for poking a little light-hearted fun at their craft.  There are also articles on more accessible topics like baby names and the names given to Chinese skyscrapers.

The point is, today is the one day in the entire year, that we can talk about one particular name that is associated with January 1st …. Guy Lombardo playing the classic Auld Lang Syne.  No … whose name are we all about today?   << JESUS >>   Of course.  January 1st is the only day in the entire Church year that we have a festival dedicated to the name of Jesus.  So what does the name JESUS mean?  <<  Lord Saves  >> or…?  << Yahweh Saves >>  Close enough, right?  We get the name Jesus through a number of stages of name translations starting with Yehoshua which can be shortened to Yeshua which can be translated into Greek as Iesous and from there into the Latin Jesu and from the Latin into our English Jesus.  But whatever name you choose to use to point to or pray to or kneel to or witness to the carpenter from Nazareth … our carpenter from Nazareth … it means that Jesus has come to save us.

Like most names, this name too has become a collection of relationships and deeds and life experiences and teachings that have bound us to this Jesus whom we love.  So, let’s think about some of the other names by which we call the Son of God.  What are some of the names you use when you pray to this one who comes to us so that God can save us  <<  CONGREGATION OFFERS NAMES >>  What are some other names that you have heard used for this Son of God that we love.  << CONGREGATION OFFERS NAMES >> And that is just the start.  Some would say that there are more than one hundred different names and titles Jesus in the Bible.  That number might be a little high … most would say it is really more like 50 or 60 … I found one web site that claims 2,203 names.  We name Jesus in many ways … but it is the same Savior upon whose name we call, whatever is the form of that name that we utter with our lips or our heart.

Of course, it is never only about Jesus.  Because names imply relationships.  What use is a name, if you don’t have someone near to you who will utter that name, and identify you as being in relationship with that one who speaks your name.  So our names are important, too.  I’m curious … do any of you here know the meaning of your names?   << PEOPLE TELL MEANINGS OF THEIR NAMES >>  Some of those names are clearly connected to life as a biblical child of God.  When we are named, our parents knowingly or unknowingly, call out from within us a spirit that is characterized by the names that we bear.  as an example, if your name is Daniel, then you are reminded that “God is your judge.”  If Hannah, then your life is characterized by “favor” or “grace.”  If Peter, then your life is built on a … <<  ROCK >> which means that if you are Norwegian and named Peter, you are truly a blockhead.  (I can say that, as I am a blockhead.)  Rhoda comes from “rose” … and Ruth from “friend” …  and Sarah from “princess”  … or matriarch, as in Abraham’s wife Sarah.

But even if your name is not a biblical one, it is a name that calls out a particular spirit that is within you.  It taps into an essential part of who you are.  And thus, when someone speaks your name, they identify, whether intentionally or unintentionally, a part of your very soul … a part of the essence of who God has made you to be … and how you have cultivated that spirit in your own life by the choices you make.  It is why the 2nd commandment is such a critical one.  Help me out here … what is the 2nd commandment?   < NO NAME IN VAIN  >>   (Where’s a 9th Grade Confirmand when you need one?)  This is about so much more than just refraining from cursing.  It is about the power you invoke when you name our God.  When you speak God’s name, you bring God into the room … you call God’s attention to that which you are attending to at the moment … you invite God’s presence and input into what you are doing.

Think about that … what if God? … better yet, what if Jesus showed up … literally … when you spoke the name of your holy one in your daily life? …  What would you do if Jesus showed up in the passenger seat of your car while you were cursing at the driver in front of you?  What if God chose to sit next to you as you lashed out at your spouse or child or companion in the midst of a heated argument?  What if the Christ of God showed up in the bowling alley next to you, after you left that solid 10 pin, and let loose with your usual expletive? … exactly what would you expect Jesus to do for you in those moments?  It is a reminder that the gift of knowing God’s name is a precious gift, and not to be used lightly.

I would suggest for consideration today … that the gift of Jesus’ name is quite possibly the greatest gift God offers us.  Because it takes the gift in the manger, and turns this historical event into a relationship that will exist between God and God’s children through the end of time and beyond.  It all comes to us in this little verse … a verse that we do not read on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day … it is a verse we will not read next week as we enter into the adult ministry of Jesus … this is the only day in this entire year when we mostly read Gospel lessons from Luke, that we will read this particular verse.  Luke, chapter 2, verse 21

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 name of Jesus … the gift of relationship … the glue that holds us in a close embrace with the divine parent who created us … the bond that keep us close to God, even when we think we want to stray far away … the name that fuels the covenant of love between you and your savior.  The one we name Jesus … calling out your name … and inviting you into the presence of God.    Amen.

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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