Someone once asked, “What’s in a name?”
Names identify who we are, who we belong to, where we come from, and even when we were born.
I am Sam—Samuel Vincent—son of Samuel and Elaine, grandson of Samuel and Lillian, and Vincent and Alice. I’m a Rose from Bell Island with roots in Harbour Main and Victoria, “BC” (behind Carbonear). But I am also Sam—husband to Jill, son-in-law to Greg and Marilyn. I am Sam—father to Amy and Samuel Gregory. Many know me as “Fr. Sam,” or “Rev’d Sam,” in the former parishes I served in. Today some call me Bishop Sam.
But I am also—through all these things—Samuel, a child of God. All that began about 47 years ago when my parents decided to take me to a church for baptism. My parents probably did not know that my name also meant something—the Hebrew name Samuel means “God has heard,” referring to the prophet Samuel.
Names are important. When Jill and I were expecting our first child I remember buying this thick book containing all different baby names for a boy or a girl. There were thousands of names all with little explanations behind their meanings. I am sure that many parents carefully considered the names of their new children. Perhaps you too did a bit of research behind the meaning of your child’s name.
On January 1st we celebrate another important name—a name that not just identifies who the person is but what that person’s purpose is. That name of course is Jesus, and we celebrate his Holy Name.
To quote from a great book called For All the Saints, by Stephen Reynolds, about the name of Jesus:
Jesus is the Greek form of a Hebrew name, Yeshua (or Joshua), meaning “God saves.” That fact has immense significance for the Church. According to the Book of Exodus, God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush and called him to bring the Hebrew out of Egypt. Moses asked the divine voice, “What is your name?” And God answered with the word “Yahweh,” which means, “I am who I am.” Because this name was laden with all the holiness of the Almighty, the people of Israel developed the custom of never speaking it; whenever they met it in the text of Scripture, they spoke the Hebrew word for “Lord” instead. But when Mary gave birth to her child, “I am who I am” entered human life, as “I am the One who saves.” God’s unspeakable name became speakable for humans because all the saving power of the Almighty was embodied in the “name of Jesus.” To take this name upon our lips – and still, more to manifest this name in our lives – is to become what Jesus is, human life in intimate communion with God. (FAS, p. 38)
The name of Jesus does not just identify who Jesus is, but it identifies why Jesus came. The Angel spoke to Joseph and said to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
So, we read that Jesus’ purpose was to save people from their sins. In the Jewish tradition, only God can save people from their sins. That is why Jesus’ name also has another important meaning, one that is vital for those wishing to be saved from their sins. Again, from Matthew’s Gospel, we read, “All this took place to fulfill what had spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’”
There is another important purpose in the name of Jesus—that God is with us. Imagine that! God no longer is distant, removed, and otherworldly. God has a face and a name. God has an identity and a purpose. God has flesh and bones, just like you and me.
I am sure that expectant parents often wonder what their baby will be like when they are born. I know that we did. Who will she look like? What colour will his hair be? What colour eyes will she have? There are all the questions and the expectations and the wondering. And finally, when the birth happens, those questions are answered. But the questioning doesn’t stop, does it? I know when I look at my children I think, “What will they become? What will be their interests? What will be their purpose in life?”
So often many people wonder who God is. What is God like? How can I know God? In Jesus, we are invited to see who God is, what God’s purpose is, and what God has planned for you and me. We are invited to meet God in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God offers a person, a name, and a purpose for us.
Perhaps you have already met God in the person of Jesus. Perhaps you have recently met him. Or perhaps you are still wondering who or what God is. Wherever you are in your faith, God is inviting you to take another look at his Son. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.