Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:21
This is the text of the message I preached at Lakes Entrance Uniting Church on Sunday 1st January 2017.
What’s in a name? According to Shakespeare even if a rose were named the rancid-stink-blossom it would still smell roselike. It would probably not be the name you’d give your daughter, although our famous Australian boxer and World Champion of the last century, Lionel Rose, might have liked it as a fighting name. (I mean, what sort of pugilist wants to ‘float like a butterfly’ anyway?) Well today, eight days after Christmas Day, it is the tradition of many Christians to celebrate the circumcision and naming of the baby born in the manger. This child was the fulfilment of God’s promises to Joseph, Mary, and the countless prophets, sages, and faith-filled Jewish worshippers who longed for the day of his coming. Therefore, the day when he is publicly presented to the world for the first time is significant.
So, what is so special about the name of Jesus? In many ways, there is nothing special; Yehoshua as his name is pronounced in Aramaic was a common enough name in Jesus’ time, so his name did not make him stand out amongst his friends. Through my life as a child at school and then a young man at University I was in class with at least three other Damiens. None of us thought that was unusual, and I’m sure young Jesus didn’t think anything was awry just because there were other Joshuas in Nazareth. Even Barabbas was named Jesus, so what? It’s just a name.
In other ways, of course there is something unique about the name of Jesus. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:9-11 that the name of Jesus is the name above every name, the greatest of all names in other words, and that when that name is said in the right context every living creature will fall to its knees and declare aloud that this Jesus is also the LORD God. Jesus instructed his disciples in John 14:14 that if they were to petition God “in my name” that God would grant that intercession. So, that’s remarkable, nothing like that has ever happened when someone has said my name out loud. But of course, we know that the name “Jesus”, those five letters and two syllables in the Roman alphabet, is no magic word. Just saying “Jesus” as a word does nothing. Truly, it is what that name represents in terms of an identity and a relationship that really matters.
Today’s set reading from the Old Testament is from Numbers 6:22-27 and those of you who have spent some time in Church might recognise it as the priestly blessing of Aaron, the brother of Moses. This blessing was to be declared over the congregation as they gathered to worship God, but note what happens in Numbers 6:27; because of the blessing God puts God’s name on the community. In other words, God claims us as God’s own. In Psalm 67:1 we read an echo of that blessing, to which is added in Psalm 67:2 a purpose: that God’s way and God’s salvation would be made known to all nations. The blessing of the Jewish high priest for the Jewish congregation is here enlarged to become God’s own pronouncement over all humankind, at least that portion who is attentive to the gathering of worshippers and hope-filled believers. Those who are blessed by God, those who are given God’s name as children of God, go out with that blessing and that identity to tell the world about God.
It kind of makes sense, with that in mind, to remember that the name Jesus actually means ‘God Saves’. In his own name, Jesus also carried his personal message. “My name is Joshua”, he might have said, “and like that mighty man of old I am here to tell you that God is on our side, God is in the process of saving you, and I am the one through whom that salvation will come”. That’s a big call for an eight-day old baby, but as history proved it was a well-chosen name for him.
Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia that when Jesus came he did so at the right time. The baby who is God-with-Us (Immanuel) and God’s Salvation (Yehoshua) came for the Jews and for the Gentiles, so those of us who acknowledge Christ as saviour now belong to God and carry God’s name alongside our other names. Paul understood the entry of the Christ into the world was a turning point in history: Jesus was born like any other boy of his day, from a human womb and into the human world of Jewish culture and religion, yet during his life he brought about a change in the state of humankind, from slaves of circumstance to the children of God. Because of Jesus humankind would no longer be trapped in the endless cycle of suffering, pain, defeat, and disappointment. Rather we would be released to live in God’s pattern of life within flow the God colours and God flavours of the world. Galatians 4:7 makes this point in first person singular, this is a message to each of us individually that you and I are a son or daughter of God. The evidence of this is that we are allowed to address God as Abba, “daddy” or “dear Father”, the word still used by Hebrew speakers about their well-beloved fathers today. As with God’s own name, the new name God gives us is majestic as we each have the name ‘child of God’ and we no longer have the name ‘slave of circumstance’.
So, what does all this mean? The name of Jesus is enough to bring God’s attention to our prayers, but it is not in itself a magic word. Well, as I said earlier the key to understanding the power of the name of Jesus lies in understanding the relationship we have been offered by this one man who carried this not uncommon name.
To be called ‘child of God’, and to be invited to call God ‘daddy’, is more than just words. Through Jesus we are brought into a relationship with him and with the Father. To ask God for anything ‘in the name of Jesus’ is to ask as if Jesus were himself asking, and we know that the Father delights to answer Jesus. Those of you who are parents might feel the same way when your beloved child asks you for something. I am not a parent, but I am an adult child, and I know how my father and mother enjoy doing things for me because I am theirs and they are mine.
But you won’t ask unless you trust. To ask the Father in Jesus name, or to believe yourself to be the much-loved daughter or son of a loving God, only makes sense if you actually believe and accept what Jesus offers. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t actually click within you unless you are in that relationship where calling God “Father” makes sense, and where you can expect God to act like a good dad towards you is obvious because you know God to be that good dad in the first place.
In other words, it’s actually not so much what Jesus was named but what we are named when we trust in Jesus. Because of who Jesus is and what he has done for me I am named as a son of God, and God is named for me as ‘the God and Father of Damien’. Because of whom Jesus is and what he has done for me I am no longer named ‘sinner’ or ‘unhealthy person’ even if I act in those ways, rather I am ‘son’ and ‘friend’ and ‘companion’ and ‘beloved’ because that is whom God has identified me to be. I am named with regard to how I belong to God now and not to how I once was external to the Kingdom of God. And because I believe that, acknowledge it, and live as if it is true, my life does flow, most of the time, in the God colours and God flavours/
And that is why it is so important to me to know, on the first day of a new year and of the adventures to come in 2017, that my Lord’s name is ‘God’s Salvation’. I know I need saving and salving at times, and because it is his name I know the one to whom I must go when that is necessary.
His name is Jesus.