Advent 4: “Family Name”
December 22nd, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
I once wrote a funeral sermon for a woman named Linda who died in her fifties of cancer. On a whim, I looked up what the meaning was behind her name to see if there was something in the meaning of her name which could be drawn upon for her funeral sermon. Her name, Linda, when traced back to its Germanic roots means “soft and tender.” This was very fitting for her personality. She was a quiet woman who had a very soft demeanour and was always tenderly caring for others. It showed me yet another example of an idea I had witnessed many times before; how a person’s name and who they are and how they act seem to have a deep connection. Have you looked up the meaning of your name? I encourage you to. You might find your name really doesn’t relate to you at all. After all, this isn’t an exact science, but you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Scripture uses the meanings of people’s names to communicate a lot about them and their personalities and how they will act. We often miss out on this deeper level to Scripture because we don’t speak Hebrew or Greek and cannot immediately make these connections.
In our OT reading this morning about the ancient prophecy of the virgin conceiving and giving birth to a son we have a couple of characters with interesting names.
Ahaz is the King who God initially spoke this prophecy to. Ahaz means “he seized” or “grasped.” This was a king who instead of listening to God and trusting His prophets instead consulted with the enemy, Assyria, for help against his other enemies. He ended up seriously regretting that decision and was put to shame for his actions of “seizing” control over the country with his own stupidity instead of acting according to God’s will.
David is also mentioned in this passage as Ahaz’s forefather. David is the one who defeated the giant Goliath with his overwhelming trust in God and spends much of his youth fighting and conquering and being on the run from his jealous King, Saul. He was very much loved by God and spoke many prophesies in the book of Psalms about God’s faithfulness and promises. David’s house was promised to rule over all nations forever. This comes to its fulfillment in Jesus who now reigns in heaven overall and will come back to rule among us also. David’s name means “beloved.”
Immanuel is the name of the son prophesied to be born of the virgin. Immanuel means “God with us.” Jesus is God made flesh who dwelt among us. Fitting name, no?
Paul, who writes the epistle for this morning, immediately calls himself a “servant of Christ Jesus” in our epistle. His name means small or humble. This is the man who used to persecute Christians but was converted on the road by Jesus Himself in a blinding vision. This is the man who counts all his goodness and righteousness under the law as a Jew as rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. This is the man who counts himself as “chief of sinners.” Sounds humble to me.
Mary’s name comes from the name Miriam. Miriam was Moses’ sister who constantly fought against her brother’s authority and was even struck with leprosy from God because of it. Her name means “stubborn” or “strong-willed.” This very much so fits Miriam, but Mary the mother of our Lord? Mary almost is the complete opposite of her name! instead of being stubborn, she questions God as to how she can give birth since she is a virgin and then simply, humbly, accepts her exalted role in God’s plan.
Joseph means “he will add.” It was through Joseph’s line that God added to the line of David the promised Messiah and Saviour. But it was not as though Joseph was completely willing to accept this addition. Joseph could not believe Mary’s story that she was pregnant without having gone behind his back and been with another man. Joseph, being a good man, was going to do the noble thing and quietly divorce her so she wouldn’t be publicly shamed and perhaps even stoned to death. Joseph did not want to ruin the reputation of Mary and so resolved to do the merciful thing. Little did he know, even though he was going to do the good and merciful thing, he was still doing the wrong thing.
Last week we heard about God’s message of repentance and His will that we do not break the 8th commandment to ruin or hurt each other’s reputations. Reputations and names are intimately connected. It is really easy to bring shame to a family’s name or reputation by what they do. For example, the Hitler’s just cannot get away from the shame Adolf brought onto their family. Depending on who you are, you may either have respect or disdain for the names’ Trudeau, Harper, or Obama, or Trump. These are all family names that carry a LOT of reputation with them based on what they have done or what people have spoken about them.
There is somebody else’s name who, depending on who you are, carries with it either the greatest hatred or the highest glory. It is a name that we pray for constantly. It is a name and reputation we ask would be kept clean and holy. “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…”
We just went over this petition of the Lord’s Prayer in confirmation class last week. And it is memory work!
Hallowed be Thy Name. What does this mean? “God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that is would be kept holy among us also.” How is God’s name kept holy? “God’s name is kept holy when the word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we, as children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in Heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”
As people who call themselves Christians, we carry with us the reputation of God with us because we bear His name. What we say and do reflects on our God. If we do evil we reflect poorly on others. If we do good, we reflect God well to others. “Leading Holy Lives according to God’s Word” entails a lot in order to properly represent God’s name to people. Do we always lead holy lives? No. I don’t and you don’t either. Should we? Yes, we should.
We should because we have been baptized into God’s name and are a part of His holy family. Jesus was not baptized into our family names because our names have not done anything, and will not do anything, truly worthy of such a high reputation.
We have been baptized into God’s name by His command. We are baptized into His name, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is not our own reputations we now bear, but His name and reputation. Technically, a person’s “Christian name” is only their first and middle names. Can you guess why? Because our family name is now Christ’s.
Our new name and reputation from God are intricately tied to what He has done. What has God done? In some ways, it is easier to answer what He has not done. The answer to that is “evil”. Everything except sin and evil comes from Him. Most importantly for us as humans, is that God came to live with us, humanity, as a little baby in a manger. Jesus is His name. Do you know what Jesus means? It means God saves. Jesus came to do EXACTLY what His name means. He was God who saved us. He saved us from our sin and from the cause of sin, death. When we die, we will take on the hereditary trait Jesus has passed on to all of us and rise again from the dead; free from sin.
Speaking of rising again, that lady who died, Linda? Her name in Hebrew is also the name for a linden tree. An interesting trait about a linden tree is that “In winter when the Linden trees shed their leaves and appear dead, their life-giving substance is still within them, and they shall bud and bloom again in time.”
Linda, and each of us, though we die, are just like this tree. We appear to have died, our bodies go into the ground, but in the spring when Christ returns, we shall all come back to life. Our baptism has given us a life-giving substance that will bring us back to life. That life-giving substance is God Himself. We are connected to the source of life Himself. We are a part of the Family of God and bear The Family Name.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.