SERMON FOR 1 JAN 2017 – Luke 2.15-21 : NAMING JESUS

Given at Gordon Chapel on 1 Jan 17 by Jeff Lowndes


What does your name mean to you?

 In the 80’s many people watched a tv series called ‘Cheers’ 

The theme song of that classic TV series, contains these words;

“Sometimes you want to go,

Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.  

You want to be where you can see,

our troubles are all the same.

You want to be where everybody knows your name.

We all want to be where everybody knows, and uses our name.   It is nice to be known and hopefully well thought of – the way your name is used can indicate this – and it can be almost like comfort food to hear it well used.

There is power in naming someone.  In the Harry Potter series, the evil villain is often referred to as “he who must not be named.”  Even saying the name of Lord Voldemort meant something bad might befall the speaker. 

 There’s power in naming things. Even as children we’re aware of it.  When we’re frightened by some sound or shadow in our room, mum or dad come in and show us what was casting the shadow or causing the noise – in other words, they’re naming the thing – so it’s under control and we lose our fear of it.  That’s the power of a name.

 Luke tells us that on the 8th day after His birth, Mary and Joseph took their son to be circumcised, as was the custom. During the liturgy, the child is named.  That day long ago in ancient Palestine, the specially trained Rabbi who performed the ritual of circumcision – said something like, “Name this child,” to which Mary and Joseph replied, “Jesus.”  And there it was.  He was named.

 Throughout the ancient Near East, it’s always been thought that names carried with them a description of the person named.  People chose names carefully because they should describe some aspect of a child’s character or identity. 

 A “good” name would say something about who the parents hoped their child would become.   Seems daft to me – how can a character or identity show at such a young age. Perhaps there’s a case for a renaming ceremony later in life when one is better known – that may cause some surprises – and we may not like the names given then!!

 Jesus is a Latinized version of Joshua or Yehoshua which, in Hebrew means “Yahweh is Salvation,” “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh rescues”.  The Angel of the Lord had come to Mary and told her that she would have a son and would name him Jesus. 

 So, God ordained that this child would be known as God’s salvation, God’s deliverer or God’s rescuer.  There’s certainly power in that name. 

 But there’s something even more powerful about giving that name to this child.  Jesus was not just the child of Joseph and Mary.  He was the incarnation of God; God among us; but now as human as any of us.

 One of the tenets of Judaism is that the name of God cannot be said or written by humans.  People can’t possibly know the character or true identity of God, so they can’t possibly name him.  Jews write God’s name with asterisks where the vowels would go (Y*HW*H) and they do not speak it.  (If you want to impress your friends, this way of expressing God is called the tetragrammaton). 

 There’s always been ways for Jews to express that it’s God about whom they are speaking.  From the time of Creation to the Exodus from Egypt, or at least until the covenant with Abraham, God was referred to as Elohim meaning “strong God.”  Later the chosen name to speak became Adonai, which became translated as “Lord,” in English.  Lordship describes one aspect of God’s character, but not all of it.

The world into which Jesus was born knew only a God who was so distant from the people, so apart, so “other worldly,” that His name could not even be spoken.  This was the same God who spoke with Moses from a burning bush and warned him not to look or he’d die.  Elijah tried to glimpse God in wind, earthquake and fire, but could only find Him in the still, small voice. 

No wonder the coming ministry of this child would be such a challenge and threat to Jewish authorities.  Jesus – God’s salvation – brought not only a name for God, but a face as well.  Suddenly people could not only speak about Him, they could speak to God and could see His face as they did so. 

 Names are important to us but in our OT lesson from Genesis we find God giving new names – so they must be important to him too!   Abram was changed to Abraham and even his wife changed from Sarai to Sarah – and they were given a covenant with God.

 Our psalm tonight speaks of God’s wonderful deeds and redemption, and our NT lesson speaks of the nature of Jesus and the power of his name.

Look at the OT stories, full of the wonder and might of God, but also His wrath against humanity.  And who could blame him for being angry and vengeful?  All God ever asked of humankind was to love Him with all their hearts, minds souls and strength, to keep the covenant and to follow His commandments.  But the people never seemed to manage it.  Instead, they made false gods and broke the commandments. 

 God tried everything to get their attention; banishment, flood, fire and brimstone, enslavement, and freedom from slavery.  God sent prophet after prophet to tell them what their mistakes had been and to try to return them to God’s path.  Nothing worked.  But finally God chose to try a new way.

 He decided to approach humans in a different way – as one of us.  He sent a baby, to be named Jesus, to take us from being fearful subjects of an angry ruler, to being children of the Living God. 

 Jesus came into the world to redeem us from sin and to show us the face of a loving God.  He brought us close to God in a way that had never been experienced before – something that could never have been accomplished by a prophet, teacher or great religious leader.

 The angel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.” (Luke 1:30-33).

 So Mary and Joseph named their baby Jesus – which means “He saves.”  And so he did – and so he does.  Jesus still lives up to his name, saving people – you and me! 

 Whenever we listen to him – go where he would have us to go, and do what he would have us to do – we’re saved. Saved from hell, from our-selves.   He saves us from behavior that would hurt us and the people we love.  He gives us the peace that passes all understanding.   All we have to do is to let him be Lord – let him guide us.  

 One definition of evangelism that I like is “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food.” And that’s what we’re doing when we show by words and deeds, what it is to be a Christian.  We are telling them where we found spiritual food – and where they might find it too.

 When we leave here tonight and Sunday after Sunday, to love and serve the Lord, may we have the courage to mention the name of Jesus to both friend and to the stranger.

 A new year lies before us. May it be for each of us a year when we pray our Savior’s Name with faith, a year when we discover that this world can be a very different place, through the power of the Holy Name.

 So, I ask you now to bow your heads and repeat after me “ Jesus – name above all names”     Jesus – name above all names.    Amen