A sermon for New Year’s Day 2023 and the Naming of Jesus.
Today we remember that Joseph was faithful to the command of the angel by naming the child “Jesus”.
What’s in a name?
When my kids were young there was a trend among some families for children to call their parents by their first names. I really didn’t like this but my kids were surrounded by their friends and wanted to fit in. We had a long conversation with them about the intimacy of names, and that the name (the labels) “Dad & Mum” were names that no one else was allowed to call us. Intimate names only they could use: no one else on earth gets to call me Dad, except my son and my daughter.
Names have meanings. Have you ever googled the meaning of your name? For example, from our congregations:
- David, a Hebrew name meaning “beloved”
- Audrey, an English name meaning “noble strength”
- Timothy, a Greek name meaning “to honour God”
- Elaine, an English name meaning “light”
Our church has previously spoken about the Genesis story and about how Adam means earth, or dirt, or man of the earth. And that Eve means life, or to breathe life. However, not all names are lovely like that. “Graeme”, for example, means “from the grey homestead” but my Dad picked it (and especially the spelling) because he wanted a name for me that no one could make fun of in the playground. So my name could also mean, “Dad cares”.
The right to give a name belongs to the parent.
When Moses met God in the burning bush he asked God’s name: the reply was, “I Am who I Am”… The Jewish tradition is to write God’s name as YHWH which can be pronounced Yahway, but anxiety over “using God’s name to swear and oath” and also “not taking the Lord’s name in vain” mean that it is rarely said. Instead the name, “the Lord”, or simply “God” get used: titles rather than names. No human gets to speak God’s name.
Whereas our parents had the duty and honour of naming us: others might call us names or we can even change our name if we want to (or even shorten our name). But still, our original name comes from our parents. When Joseph named the child “Jesus”, he honoured God’s command to give Jesus the name God had chosen. Of course, this was more likely to be the Hebrew, “Yeshua” rather than the Greek, “Jesus”. The English version of Yeshua is Joshua, but all three mean the same thing: ‘God is here’, or ‘God is salvation’.
God did the thing that parents are honoured to do for their children: God gave Jesus his name. In return, Jesus gets to call God (call the divine creator, call the Almighty) “Dad”. That is such a powerful realisation isn’t it. The relationship between the Almighty Divine presence which, in the beginning, hovered over the void and said “Let there be light”, and Jesus : is one of ‘parent and child’. Until that moment, God was very much “The Almighty”.
“O Lord our governor, how glorious is your name in all the world!”
… the human relationship with God is this …
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have ordained, What are humans, that you should be mindful of them”
Even Moses doesn’t get to use God’s name, but Jesus (named by God), begins to speak of God as “Dad”… and Jesus extends this further inviting us to also speak of God as parent: “when you pray, say: our Father in heaven”. Doesn’t this just stop you in your tracks? Thanks to Jesus, we get to speak to God as an intimate parent. We have become children of God and can know God as a child knows a parent. We can call God, “Dad” or… and it is not blasphemy… even call God, “Mum”… that is right and holy too… God is not a man. God is not a woman:
Remember Isaiah: “For a long time I (God) have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant”
So, the way we get to speak to God as “our Father” (in such a personal way) happens because God has drawn close to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s child, who has made us sisters and brothers, therefore we are also children of God. This is why I find the discipline of Daily Prayer so helpful: it is time set aside to cuddle in God’s arms, and to hear God speak to me in a way which is personal and helpful. It took time and discipline, but that is why our religion is known as faith, because it comes from faithfulness and consistency in prayer.
God knows you by name.
I hope that you may find a faithfulness in prayer this week, that you may develop your intimate relationship with our Divine parent, that you may remember that you are a beloved child of God.