Sunday’s sermon: Prepare the Way: Naming

Advent joy

Texts used – Isaiah 12:2-6 and Matthew 1:18-25

  • In 1990, an unknown, underpaid, underappreciated young woman named Joanne envisioned a story. It took her six more years to get that story written and published for a relatively small market in London. And in the envisioning of this story, Jo created one of the greatest literary villains of all time, a villain so evil, so nefarious, so fearsome that more often than not, he doesn’t even need a name: He Who Must Not Be Named – Lord Voldemort himself.

    • Many characters throughout Joanne’s – a.k.a. J.K. Rowling’s – beloved and sensationally successful Harry Potter series are so afraid of this evil character that they cannot even bring themselves to say his name hearing the name Voldemort causes people to:
      • Shiver
      • Jump
      • Let out a little, involuntary shriek of terror
      • All sorts of alternatives
        • “He Who Must Not Be Named”
        • “You Know Who”
        • Even his miscreant followers can’t bring themselves to say it: “The Dark Lord”
    • As the story develops through 7 books and over 4000 pages, it becomes a badge of courage and defiance for characters to be able to say the name “Voldemort.” → Rowling’s blockbuster illustrates just how much meaning and history and power and allegiance can be wrapped up in a name
  • Recap of Advent sermon series
    • Series = looking at different aspects of how we prepare ourselves for a new presence in our lives
      • First week: finding hope as we prepare ourselves by learning
      • Second week: finding peace as we prepare ourselves by nesting
      • Last week: finding love as we prepare ourselves by breathing
      • This week – wrap up: finding joy as we prepare ourselves by naming
        • Joy from the reassurance of being named and claimed by God – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of the universe
        • Joy from the power of the name that we claim: Christian
  • Naming = such an important part of our lives names that we bear carry so much of our identity – who we are, the rolls we play, etc.
    • Expectant parents spend hours pouring over books of baby names, meanings of names, lists of most popular names, and so on
      • Creative vs. traditional?
      • Family name vs. something new?
      • Spelling?
      • Middle name?
      • How does it all sound together?
      • Extends to four-footed, furry, feathered, or otherwise non-human family additions as well spent almost a week trying out names when we adopted Jessi before we finally settled on the “right” one
    • But that’s certainly not the only time when a new arrival requires thinking about names and how they affect our relationships.
      • Blending families creates naming quandaries
        • Getting married – How do you address in-laws? By name (Greg, Eileen)? Call them “Mom” and “Dad”?
        • Combining two families – What do you call your stepmom? Stepdad? Step-grandparents?
      • Expanding families creates naming quandaries
        • Becoming grandparents for the first time – What are you called?
          • Grandma? Nana? Nonna? Oma? Grandmama?
          • Grandpa? Bampa? Papa? Opa? Granddad?
        • What do you call great-grandparents?
          • It’s really important to me that my boys know who my grandma is. She’s the only great-grandparent that they’re ever going to have the opportunity to experience, and she was an incredibly important part of my life growing up. But trying to get a 2-yr-old to say “great grandma”? Nope. No way. To formal, and way too much of a mouthful!
    • NT passage = illustration of just how important naming can be
      • God declaring to Joseph that Mary’s baby would be named “Jesus”
        • “Jesus” in Heb. = Yeshua – means “God saves” (combination of “Yahweh”/God and “yasha”/to save)
        • Text: [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because the child she carries will save his people from their sins.[1]
      • Cites another passage from Is[2] (naming this unborn baby with the God of the ages): Now all this took place so that what the Lord has spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)[3]
      • Certainly not the only time in Scripture when God gave a name
        • Angel appears to Zechariah and tells him that he and Elizabeth should name the baby John so insistent that after asking a simple question (“Are you sure, crazy angel? Me and my wife are really old.”), Zechariah is struck mute until he writes child’s name down for all to see after John’s birth[4]
        • God gives Abram and Jacob new names to reflect change in their relationship with God
          • Abram (noble father) Abraham (father of many)[5]
          • Sarai (princess)  Sarah (mother of nations)[6]
          • Jacob (supplanter)  Israel (triumphant with God)[7]
        • Later passage from Is often quoted at baptisms, naming/dedication services, etc. – Scripture: But now, says the LORD – the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.[8]  God has indeed called each and every one of us by name as surely as God called all those “big names” before us: Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, John, and even Jesus.
  • There is so much meaning, so much love and personality and significance involved in naming. – hear all that love and devotion in OT reading
    • Hear Is’ call to people to declare God’s goodness and to voice their praise to God:
      • Speaking of God’s goodness: God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and won’t be afraid. The LORD is my strength and my shield; [God] has become my salvation.[9]
      • Praising God’s name: You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation. And you will say on that day: “Thank the LORD; call on God’s name; proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples; declare that God’s name is exalted.[10]  Notice that while Isaiah holds up the importance of that individual act of thanking God and calling on God’s name – both of which can be very personal and intimate experiences with God – Isaiah links that personal praise and thanksgiving to public action: to witness, to an outward and public declaration of who God is to us.
        • Heb. “proclaim” (“proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples) = full of meaning about different ways that we can do that – connotations of knowing, experiencing, caring about, understanding  The point is that there are all sorts of different ways to enact our faith – to put hands and feet and a smile and a loving heart on the name that we bear: Christian.
          • Live God’s gospel of love for our neighbors
          • Embody God’s welcome to those shunted to the outside
          • All the while remaining grounded in who we are and whose we are – Heb. “declare” (“declare that God’s name is exalted”) = remember à As we are sharing our faith – as we are naming and claiming who God is to us in the midst of all the ups and downs and sideways movements of our lives – we also need to remember who God is.
            • Number of resources for praying the names of God – idea: each name (Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai, Emmanuel) sheds light on an aspect of God’s character (God is everlasting, powerful, magnificent, source of our blessing … God is with us)  It’s an interesting study to undertake, especially during seasons of preparation (Advent, Lent) because as we prepare to declare the greatest elements of our faith – that God came down to live among us and then died to save us – it reminds us who we are by reminding us whose we are.
  • But proclaiming and remembering and reveling in the name of God is only part of bearing this name, Christian. As with any other name, taking on the name “Christian” carries a lot of baggage with it.
    • Lots of people’s names come with a story
      • Lisa vs. Lydia
      • David = David Gerald because Grandpa was Gerald David
      • Tasha’s name origins
    • There is a significance. There is a history. There is a life and a story and all sorts of hopes and expectations and heartbreaks and wonders and questions wrapped up in our names. And carrying the name “Christian” is no different. With this name, we bear a legacy and a hope.
      • Legacy = not always a good one  There have been a lot of things done in the name of God that are appalling and violent and, frankly, evil. The Crusades in which Europeans fought to “take back” the Holy Land from those for whom it was their ancestral home … the decimation of a culture and a way of life for hundreds of thousands if not millions of Native Peoples in this country in the name of “civilizing” them and forcing our religion and our way of life on them … the justification of slavery … the justification of the Holocaust … the justification of apartheid oppression and abuse in South Africa … the hate speech used by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church as they protested and cheered at the funerals of fallen soldiers. The list could go on. When we do as Isaiah commands – when we “proclaim Gods deeds among the peoples, declare that God’s name is exalted,” when we “sing to the LORD, who has done glorious things [and] proclaim this throughout the earth” – we have to do so remembering all that has come before us.
      • Hope = But we also have to remember that that is not all there is to the story and that is certainly not the end of the story.
        • Also those who have done great good
          • Dietrich Bonhoeffer – German Lutheran pastor and theologian, anti-Nazi dissident who helped establish the Confessing Church in Germany which decried everything the Nazis were doing and saying  executed by Nazis in a concentration camp
          • Desmond Tutu – Anglican bishop from South Africa who has been a powerful voice speaking out for those who are oppressed
            • Voice for justice
            • Voice for equality
            • Voice for peace
          • Pope Francis – continues to work tirelessly and compassionately within the long-established hierarchy of the Catholic Church to bring about care for those who have been alienated and outcast for so long
            • Those living in poverty
            • Those who have been victims of clergy abuse
            • Those who have been shoved aside by society as well as the church
  • Friends, despite everything that is wrapped up in this crazy name that we choose to bear – the name of a baby born in a feeding trough, the name of a simple carpenter-turned-teacher, the name of the One who came to bring us God’s eternal grace … Despite everything that is wrapped up in choosing to bear the name “Christian,” at its core, this is a name of joy.
    • Joy in God’s love for all
    • Joy in Christ’s gift for all
    • Joy in Holy Spirit’s presence with all
    • So do not fear, for God has redeemed you. God has called you by name – by each distinct, precious, glorious name – and says to you, “You are mine.” Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 1:21.

[2] Is 7:14.

[3] Mt 1:22-23.

[4] Lk 1:13-20, 57-64.

[5] Gen 17:5.

[6] Gen 17:15.

[7] Gen 35:10.

[8] Is 43:1.

[9] Is 12:2.

[10] Is 12:4.

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