Sermon 1/1/2017 “Name”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Church of the Resurrection
Text: Luke 2:15-21
Day: Holy Name


I had fun yesterday looking up the meaning of your names. What I discovered is something I already knew: we have great “ingredients” here in the metaphorical stew that is Church of the Resurrection. Here’s who we have here, who God’s given us. The list is long, so bear with me:

  • Striving to excel (Emily, Emelia)
  • All honey (Pam)
  • God is my oath (Elizabeth)
  • Tenderness (Edna)
  • Blooming (Florence), and flowers (Florina), such a lily (Susan) and rose (Memella), and trees: palm (Tami) and yew (Yvette)
  • From the meadow of the royal fortress (Kim)
  • Follower of Christ (Christine, Kirsten) and divine (Devyn)
  • The bright one (Lenore, Eleonora), and light (Hellin)
  • Weariness (Lea)
  • Messenger of God (Angela)
  • Beloved (Cheryl)
  • The far-reaching one (Katherine)
  • The pretty one (Linda), beautiful (Belinda), fair (F’Iona)
  • Brave as a bear (Deena)
  • Pure (Kate, Karen, Karyn), purity, and the pure one (Kathleen, Kathy)
  • Country (Gladys)
  • Friend (Ruth)
  • Jewess (Judy)
  • Snare (Rebecca)
  • God is gracious (Jo)
  • Gift from God (Michele) or Isis (Izzy)
  • Joy (Letitia, Gay), and also bringer of joy (Bea)
  • Princesses galore (Sarah, Saide, Sita)
  • Famous warrior (Louise)
  • Pearl—five of these (Margaret, Marjie)
  • Brings victory (Bernice)
  • Free (Frances, Carleigh)
  • Winner (Tory)
  • Phantom (Jennifer)
  • Who is like God (Kayla)
  • Court attendant (Courtenay)
  • The alien or stranger—Four of these (Barbara)
  • A descendant of valor (Farrell)
  • Reef formation, i.e., a place of shelter (Coral)
  • Small or little (Carolyn)
  • Defender of the people (Sandra)
  • Born on Christmas Day (Natalie)
  • Sorrows (Lori)
  • Gift (Donita)
  • God is gracious (Jane)
  • Staunch (Cynthia)
  • Favor and grace (Anne, Ann)
  • Young girl (Ella)
  • Bee (Debbie)
  • Of the sea (Mary, Mureen) or sea bright (Muriel) or from the lake (Lyn)

And that’s just the women. Here are the men:

  • Strong-willed warrior (Will), and a famed warrior (Louis), and war-like (Mark)
  • Wise—two of these (Lawrence), and counsellor (Ray)
  • The crowned one (Stephen)
  • Servant of God (Abdul)
  • God has heard—four of these (Samuel)
  • Bright flame—three of these (Robert)
  • Community-minded (Karl)
  • God has remembered (Zachery)
  • Pious (Hassan)
  • A follower of Dionysus (Dennis)
  • Handsome one—two of these (Kenneth)
  • Victory of the people (Colin)
  • Supplanter—the number one boys’ name of all time, so there’s a lot of supplanting going on! (James)
  • God is my judge (Dan)
  • Free (Francis, Frank)
  • Beloved of God (David)
  • God is gracious (John)
  • Little rock (Al) or rock (Peter)
  • From the mill’s ford (Milford)
  • From the west field (Wesley)
  • Man from the north (Norman)
  • A twin (Thomas)
  • British title (Clarence)
  • Trader (Barrett)
  • The Maker (Tyler)
  • To honor God (Tim, Timmy)
  • Running (Rhys)
  • Brave ruler (Richard)

If you don’t already know what your name means, you’ll have to visit one of those on-line name Web sites, or your local library, to find out which of these is what YOUR name means. For today, though, think of our church, blessed with this mix of gifts, this mix of individual purposes, brought together to accomplish something together, to accomplish some purpose given by God.

Giotto, Natività. Nascita di Gesù (Nativity: Birth of Jesus), 1304-1306

Today of the Feast of the Holy Name, when we are asked to ponder who this baby is, Jesus, who was born anew last week. The lens through which we are asked to view this baby is his name, Jesus, which means “God is salvation.”

“What an amazing coincidence!” you might think. But no, the gospels take pains to tell us that Jesus’ name—we believe the only name through which eternal salvation comes—was no accident, no coincidence. Today’s gospel lesson says that Jesus was “the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Matthew’s gospel (1:21) tells of an angel visiting Joseph and explaining why he should marry Mary. “She will give birth to a son,” the angel told Joseph, “and you shall give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Luke’s gospel (1:31) tells of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary and telling her she would have a son and name him Jesus. “He will be a great man,” Gabriel told Mary, “and will be called Son of the Most high. The Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor David. Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever, and his kingdom will never end.”

So, from these accounts, we know that naming the baby “Jesus” wasn’t either Joseph’s or Mary’s idea. This is the name ordained forever for this child. In a way, Jesus’ name is the sacrament—the outward and visible sign” of the inner spiritual grace, salvation, that God effected through this child.

The thing that’s hard for us to understand, in our culture in this time and place, is that a person’s name could in any way identify that person’s physical purpose in life. Utterly ridiculous, right?

This was Umberto Eco’s premise in his 1980 novel, The Name of the Rose. Eco was a semiotician, someone who interprets cultures through their signs and symbols. Ironically, Eco wrote about postmodern realities—today’s cultural realities—set as medieval mystery stories. Really dense mystery stories. At the end of The Name of the Rose Eco wrote, in Latin, “Yesterday’s rose endures in its name; we hold only the bare name.” In other words, Eco suggests that names are ultimately empty, that a thing (or, by extension, a person) exists far apart from its reality.

If Eco is correct, names no longer hold intrinsic meaning for us. And yet, in a way, a person’s name MIGHT reveal their parents’ desires for them. We might, for example, name our son “Barron” if that is what we hope he will become. Or we might name our son “William,” not because we aspire for him to be a “mighty warrior,” but because we want him to be as courageous as his father or grandfather, who also bore that name.

As you may know, I don’t think there are actually coincidences in life. I think we each have our name for a reason, a reason that is somehow related to our purpose in life. Jesus’ name, told by angels, was one he shared with Joshua, the man who led God’s people into the Promised Land. Jesus’ name is the name by which we are all saved.

So, every time I hear the song, Mary, Did You Know?, the song that Deena Jaworski sang so movingly for us today, every time I hear that song I answer: “Yes!” Yes, Mary knew that her baby boy would save us all. The angel Gabriel told her, before the child was even conceived. So let’s not mistake who this child Jesus is: the one who has saved us, as his name foretold.

What reality of your name are YOU living into? And what about Church of the Resurrection?

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