Name of Jesus
Pastor Emily Johnson
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who names us children of God. Amen
Happy New Year!
Yes, time marches on
and the calendar has turned from 2022 over to 2023,
causing us to marvel at how fast that went
and perhaps look forward with anticipation
to what a fresh new year might bring.
And we begin this new calendar year in Jesus’ name,
commemorating the day that Jesus received his name.
Names are important,
there are whole books of them
for expecting parents to pour over
explaining the origin of the names
and what they mean,
sometimes certain names are important to families,
and sometimes we end up acquiring nicknames
or changing our names to better reflect who we are,
because beyond the linguistic meanings,
what a name really means is us.
When someone says Emily
those five letters come together
to represent all of me
including my past that has formed me into who I am today.
For someone to know your name
is for someone to know you
(even just a little bit)
and that is powerful,
as humans we all long to be well and truly known.
and part of being known
can be a connection to our heritage
which names and naming can provide
especially when there is a ritual associated with naming
like in the Jewish tradition.
In Jewish law
every baby boy is to be circumcised
and named on his eighth day of life.
By this they are joined to the covenant promise
that God made with Abraham.
We heard in the gospel this morning
how Mary and Joseph followed the law
and on the eighth day named their son Jesus,
though they didn’t have to consult any baby name books,
the angel who announced Jesus’ birth
also told them to name him Jesus.
Jesus, or in the Hebrew, Joshua,
means the Lord saves.
In receiving his name
Jesus continues in the covenant
even as he is named as the one who will keep covenant promises.
We celebrate his naming,
we mark a new year in his name,
because names are powerful
and Jesus’ name is the most powerful of all,
with Jesus we are on a first name basis with God.
Take a moment to think about that,
we’re on a first name basis with God.
As the psalmist marvels today: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?”
the God created universe is vast,
and it is amazing that we,
a small portion of it,
should be noticed by the creator
and not just noticed but made caretakers of the rest of creation.
“O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth”
We don’t give first names as much weight as we used to,
think of the Regency era manners of Jane Austen characters
where you weren’t even to speak to someone
unless you’d been introduced by a mutual acquaintance
and then only by title and surname
until a relationship had been established,
then you could move on to using first names,
because then you knew each other.
The power of names is the power of being known.
Jesus tells the disciples in John
that those that have seen him have seen the father,
to know Jesus is to know God,
and even more than that,
God knows us,
God knows us by name
and in the waters of baptism
God has given us a new name,
a name in addition to the one our parents gave us
or we chose for ourselves,
God has named us “child of God”
And in doing so joined us to Jesus’ name.
God says, ‘now everything I think of and associate with Jesus
I think about you’
in addition to everything else I know about you.
God knows us,
not just with head knowledge
but heart knowledge,
God knew us and even then, God chose us,
God chose you.
“What are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you have made them little less than divine, with glory and honor you crown them.”
When we look at ourselves
honestly it is an amazing wonder that God would even notice us,
let alone choose us
but God did
and as Paul says in Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
Being named a child of God
means that now our name
not only encompasses our past and present
but our future as well,
because to be named a child of God
comes with responsibilities
to live up to the name that God has given us
to follow the one for whom we are name.
and it means that however life goes
whether our actions reflect our name
or despite our best efforts we fail
we know the end of the story,
that is, life everlasting with God.
Today we start a new calendar year,
we don’t know exactly what the year will hold for us,
but we do know who will hold us through the year.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. Amen