The Name of Jesus
What’s in a name? In preparing for this sermon, I found an interesting website at www.babynames.com – through which you can research the origin and meaning of over ten thousand names!
I had a fun time looking through this site. For example, my own name – George – literally means “farmer, one who works the earth.” I will be the first to admit that this certainly is NOT a very good description of me – I have absolutely NO talent whatsoever in farming or gardening – you might even say that I have a “brown thumb”! My wife’s name – Carol – literally means “melody or song”. She may indeed be the “Song of my life”, but she will be the first one to tell you that chanting the liturgy or leading public singing in a congregation is NOT one of the favorite things that she enjoys doing as a pastor!
Many if not most of us probably have names that bear little if any resemblance to their actual meaning. For example, I was named “George” because my father’s name was George – and his father’s name was George, and so on for a number of generations. Carol was born on Christmas Eve, so you can guess why her parents gave her that name. (And by the way, nine years later to the day her brother was also born on Christmas Eve – and he was named (can you guess?!) Chris!
Back in Biblical times, however, a name was not given just to continue a family tradition or for “cutesy” reasons. A name was given in order to describe WHO and WHAT that person was. That is why God changed Abram’s name (meaning “exalted father”) to Abraham (meaning “father of a multitude”) after he promised to make him the ancestor of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:5) And that is why God later changed Jacob’s name (meaning “supplanter”) to Israel (meaning “one who strives with God”) after he had wrestled with an angel before meeting his brother Esau (Genesis 32:28). And that is why God named himself Yahweh (meaning “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”) to emphasize that he as God is totally beyond anyone’s control (Exodus 3:14).
And now today on this eighth day of Christmas, the Church celebrates The Name of Jesus – for as we heard in today's gospel: "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." (Luke 2:21)
Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua (which means "Yahweh saves"). "God saves!" Another form of that name is Joshua – so if you didn't know it before, Jesus and Pastor Joshua share the same name!
Jesus – Yahweh (God) saves – is the name that was given to Mary's child when he was circumcised. As I have said, this name was not given in order to continue a family tradition or for "cutesy" reasons. It was given to in order to describe who and what this child was and what he was to be – that through him, GOD SAVES!! According to the gospels, this was not a name that Mary and Joseph had thought up on their own – but had been revealed to them by angels. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive in her womb and bear a son, and she was to name him Jesus (Luke 1:31). An angel likewise told Joseph in a dream that he was to name Mary's child Jesus, "for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
Yes, it is through this child – this person named JESUS – that God saves his people. Through Jesus, God saves us from our sins by offering us forgiveness. Through Jesus, God saves us from Satan's way of hatred and despair and gives us love, joy, and peace. Through Jesus, God saves us by giving us a "second birth" so that we can receive the power to live as his children rather than as children of this world. And, through Jesus, God will save us from the power of death and give us resurrection and eternal life. All of this salvation God gives to us and to the entire world through this person named JESUS. Jesus is who his name says he is – the very salvation of God!
May we on this special day ponder the significance of the Name of Jesus – that through him Yahweh saves – God saves! Through him, may we know that we shall be delivered from whatever oppresses us. May we call upon the name of Jesus whenever we are in trouble, whenever we need healing, whenever we are tempted by evil, and whenever we need strength and courage – because through him God will save us!
I would like to conclude this message with an early Christian hymn of praise from the second chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians. Because Jesus was obedient to God to the point of death, even death on a cross – "God has therefore highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:9-11)
What's in a name? In the name of Jesus, we receive God's salvation from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. In the name of Jesus, we receive power to become God's children forever. The name of Jesus truly is the name that is above every name! And, as his people, may we always treasure that name and bear and proclaim it proudly in all that we think, say, and do.
As we begin this New, Year, let us praise the Name of Jesus! Let us praise his name forever and ever! Amen! Amen!
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270