Old Testament Lesson Numbers 6:22-27
Second Lesson Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel Lesson Luke 2:21
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [Luke 2:21]
This day is one of the most significant in the church year. Not because it’s the first day of a new year, but because this is the day we celebrate the naming of Jesus, our Lord. This day, eight days after birth, was very significant in the life of every Hebrew child. Not only was this the day that boys entered the covenant, circumcised as a sign that they were part of that special, unique covenant that God had made with his people; it was also the day when newborn babies were given their name.
The process the ancient Hebrews used to name their children was complicated and steeped in tradition. Often they chose names of great heroes, or men of great stature in the community, and always in the back of their minds was preservation of family names as well. That’s why you find so many Seths and Enochs and Simeons, and Ruths and Deborahs and Marys in so many Hebrew families.
And when it came to naming the really important leaders of Israel, God played a direct role in naming. Like the naming of Samuel, which means “the one who heard God”, or David, which means “beloved”, or Jesus which means “he shall save his people”.
I think we, in America, must have taken lessons from the Hebrews; because we often name our children after great heroes and people of great stature in our communities, often assigning the hero’s surname to our child. We have Roosevelt, and Carter and Reagan; sometimes even using the hero’s first and last name for our child like George Washington Carver or Martin Luther King.
And for hundreds of years, people in our society found it important to keep family names alive too. They named their children after favorite relatives, or added suffixes like “the second” or “the third” or “junior” especially to their son’s names; naming children after uncles or aunts, grandparents or great-grandparents; and if that wasn’t enough, children were nicknamed based on how they looked or whose child they were. So we got nicknames like Slim, and Red, and that famous father and son pair, Pete and Repete.
Today though, the idea of honoring a certain family member by preserving his or her name is pretty much gone. It’s still done, but not too often. Now-a-days we don’t see much connection between names and lineage, or occupation, or even looks. More often we pick names simply because we like the sound of the name, or because the name is unusual, or unique, and we see the name setting our children apart, making them stand out; which is why many people prefer to be known by nicknames, or they go by their middle names; their first names are just a little too unique, at least for a little child.
But, even with those familial names you can get ones that you just have to grow into. Some names are so unique that it takes time to develop the character to fit into the mold the name suggests; names like August and Josiah that start out as Gus and Joe until one day when suddenly those nicknames are a thing of the past; and you only hear them addressed by their formal, complete names.
Of course people sometimes use their names in just the opposite way. They may establish themselves with the very formal names they’ve been given, only later wishing they could soften those names in an effort to change the world’s view of them; perhaps seeming friendlier, more approachable. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. Who knows, we may see a spike in the number of Donald’s and Hillarys out there over the next few years … or maybe not.
Any more, we don’t make much of a connection between names and lineage, or names and occupation, or even names and looks, but if we tell ourselves that names aren’t important to us, we’re only fooling ourselves. We’re very purposeful as we go about picking names. Whether we pick names to fit in, or to stand out, in the world; we pick based on whatever works best to make it in the world.
If the name we’ve been given doesn’t do the trick, we find a way to change it; because we’re all about the world and our life in it. That’s where our sin directs us, and leads us; down a path devoted to ourselves, and to our life in this world. Sin is all about self. And the self needs a name that fits, a name that works, a name that’s recognized by the world, a name that brings us success.
But sadly, we don’t have what it takes to achieve a life of true success, because a truly successful life is one that’s pleasing to God, and no name we give ourselves can promise us that kind of success. Our names may sound impressive or unique, stately or formal, strong or powerful, but they’re only a façade.
They cover a walking tomb filled with sin that dooms us to death; and we don’t even see it. Look back at this past year; think about the things you worked so hard to achieve, the things you’re most proud of, the things your reputation, your name, stand for; do you realize none of them make you acceptable to God.
There’s only one man acceptable to God; the One who has risen from the dead and now lives beyond this world, beyond the grave, with God. His is the only name that God accepts; and it’s in his name alone that there is true and everlasting life; successful life.
If only we had that name; but our sin prevents us from having it. Our sin prevents us from using that name as our own. That name belongs to only One; One who’s pure and holy before his Father. That name belongs to Jesus Christ; the name that was given to him by his Father. His is the name that is above all names; the name at which every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, with every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. His is the only name in which there is salvation and life eternal. But, in our sinfulness, his name can’t belong to us, and there’s nothing we can do to change that.
But God can change that, and by God’s grace alone, he has changed it. He sent his Son, with the name that is above all names. His Son, who was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped; his Son who made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; who humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross; and he saved us.
For his sake, all your sins are forgiven; for his sake, you are now a child of God! You bear his name! You have a name that has nothing to do with your lineage, or your occupation, or anything that has to do with this world. You have a name that has been given to you by your Savior himself.
He gave it to you at your Baptism. That’s what makes your Baptism so important. That was the day you received your ‘Christian’ name. That’s what makes this day so important.
Now you and I are called the ‘ones who have heard God’, just like Samuel, because God has called us through the Gospel. Now we are called the ‘ones who are beloved’ to him, just like David, because our heavenly Father spared nothing to redeem us. Now we are called a people who are saved; now we have a name that gives us life eternal, just like his name promised; because we belong to the One who on this day was named Jesus.
In Christ’s service,