The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The Flight to Egypt, Hans Zabateri 1859-1945
Words have meaning and names have power.
A Yiddish speaking newcomer to American took his pregnant wife to the hospital, but during the delivery, when he found out they were twins, he fainted. He didn't come to for a few days, so his brother was brought in to help name the children. "My brother named my kids?!" he exclaimed when he woke up. "But my brother is illiterate. And he can't even speak any English. Oiy, so what did he name the girl?"
"He named her Denise." "Denise? Well, that's not such a bad name. I kind of like it. And what did he call the little boy?" “De Nephew”
In the story about Mary and Joseph naming their son Jesus, there is both meaning and power. The name of Jesus simply means, “Salvation.” There is obviously power within that name if he lives up to it in some way, which of course we as Christians would wholeheartedly say he does. It is always good to see the power of God working in creation and one of the most creative acts in the world, aside from conception is the naming of a child. In the Lucan and Matthean Gospel accounts, the naming of Jesus is referenced, and we sometimes skim over the importance of this factual event. In the Jewish custom there were rules and guidelines to follow. It is most common that you would never name your child before it was born, and secondly you would always wait until after it was born. Why is this? Following the covenant of Abraham with God, all male children will be circumcised on the eighth day. It is the most important Jewish ceremony called the Bris Milah and it signifies when a covenant is made between that child and God and therefore the moment the soul enters the body. Similarly, when a person dies, the soul lingers the same time prior to departure from the body. The entrance and departure of the soul is a powerful act, and it is judged by God. Whoever has control of this sending and taking, on God’s behalf is the arbitrator of ‘salvation.’
There are other rules in the Yiddish tradition. Ashkenazi Jews (Central Europe) for example believed that naming your child after descendants who have died is a way of keeping their memory alive and a way to inspire the namesake to live up to the admirable qualities of that person. The Sephardic Jews, on the other hand believe that naming your child after a living relative is a way to build in a mentorship program. In the case that neither are chosen verbatim, it would be appropriate to carry the first letter of a descendent or predecessor to the child’s new name. You should name him after a predecessor in your genealogy, so it keeps the memory of that person and the values that they exhibited. These godly values should live in a new generation.
Considering these traditions, Jesus, should therefore be found in the earlier generation. Let's go back where Matthew gives us a great account of not just one generation, not two nor three, but twenty-eight generations. Starting with Abraham and going all the way to David, we see the exile period which is fourteen generations. Then there is a return, where we see fourteen more. That's twenty-eight generations in total. When you read the Matthean account, and you are looking for the name of Jesus, you are not going to find it, exactly. Are you telling me out of twenty-eight generations, we cannot be good Jews, following the tradition, when naming Jesus after a predecessor? There are seemingly, none that exist. Remember, the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus. This now becomes a unique example of naming a Hebrew boy from a divine source. He is named by God, through the angel Gabriel. “His name is to be ‘Jesus’”. It is like the name fell out of the sky but was it intended to have no correlation in how children were named in the Hebrew tradition?
There is another Old Testament name however, that sounds like Jesus, but it's not spelled the same way. He was a very prolific and important character in the Old Testament, and it was after the exile, and right before the entrance into the Promised Land. He was the one who was a disciple of Moses, who delivered God's chosen people, the Jewish people. This young man took the mantle of authority after Moses to help the Hebrews cross the Jordan River and to go into a place of milk and honey. There, they were given power to defeat the Canaanites and the Hittites and several other tribes. They were no longer wandering in a wilderness. They now have a home. The name of this person was Joshua. Joshua is correct pronunciation in Hebrew dialect. Jesus is not an Aramaic nor a Hebrew name, but it is pronounced, phonetically, very similar, as “Yeshua.”
The topic of how Jesus was named is relevant to every relationship whereas a given name usually identifies with the culture, and that association gives credibility. There is no other Jesus before him though, and when you study more of Jewish culture, you'll see that they made exceptions in some places. You can name your son after someone who is living, and that would honor that child's name. But Joseph is the only one. Joseph does not sound like Jesus, nor does it sound like Joshua. The way we legitimize the name of Jesus through the cultural practice, while honoring his name handed down from the heavenly Father above, it is the lettering that is important. In previous generations, there is Jehoshaphat and Jesse, Joshua and Joseph.
We still need to ask two more very important questions. What is the meaning of His name and further how does it have power when used? In Hebrew “Joshua” means, “Salvation, and remarkably, so does “Jesus” with an add-on of, “Anointed One” or “Emmanuel.” Everything that was prophesied about the naming of the Messiah is completely fulfilled and who Jesus will become. Jesus was given the name, officially, on the 8th day in accordance to the Hebrew custom by Mary and Joseph but we heard in Scripture today that this Holy Family knew the holy name prior to him being conceived. Knowing, or naming, the child prior to the 8th day was bad practice, discouraged and looked down upon by Jews. Today, in American culture we want to know, if it is going to be a boy or girl long before birth, so the parents can start preparing ahead about possible names.
Where is the power of Christ? Where is the power in the name of Jesus? It comes back to the understanding of one word used by Paul in the letter to the Galatians. That short little reading where Paul says because Jesus, “was born under the laws, we are born into God and to be his children.” Further along, we are “adopted.” Under Jewish law a child adopted could not be the rightful heir because they were not biologically their blood, and they did not follow the genealogy. They were not entitled to inheritance. Yet, in the Roman law a child does become an heir through adoption. Paul, who was Saul (Jewish) was born as Jew, but he became Roman. Paul can see the law of the Mosaic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant and now the new covenant in Christ Jesus being fulfilled. They are bound together, with both old and new covenants giving credibility to Jesus as the Messiah. The contractual framework is lived out in the act of communion to which God unites us in His flesh and blood. That's exquisite.
In the name of Christ, we pray over the elements. We invoke the Holy Spirit to create something Incarnate and existing within each of our lives. This means we are known by our names by God. I dare to think we get to that place in heaven and where we are presented before the throne, before the Almighty and He goes, “Now, tell me your name again?” He knows you by your name. He knows your meaning. He knows your purpose. He knows your destiny and He is calling upon you to simply ask for Him to be present. He wants to be in your life when you name him as Lord. When you invoke the name of Jesus, everything in your life, in your mind, in your heart, in your very soul, something happens unlike anything else. It is not like you're praying out to Joseph or Mary. It's not like you're praying out to the saints of the Church to intercede on your behalf and can ask for support and intercessory prayer. It is quite different. When you call upon the name of Jesus, it's more than merely asking for help. You are asking for your life to be saved, saved from whatever it is you're going through. In fear and hope we pray to God to reveal himself to us so that we can see that power he presents.
We may not know where we are on the successional map, but God does. A friend of mine, for example would come to me and say, “Hey, I'm related to so-and-so, and so-and-so [always famous]” and I would say, “Gosh, yeah, you're related to a lot of people, but did you know that we share the same mother and father?” He would look surprised and say, “We do?” I said, “Indeed, we are descendants of Adam and Eve.” I am sure when we go back, we can find that our uniqueness seemingly becomes a little less important because we're thrown into the billions and billions of people that have lived before us. Jesus says, even with all that, all that creation before you, I am creating something new in you. That is what I seek. Jesus wants to see new life growing in you and when you call upon His name, he has the power to do that. There is new meaning when hearing words like we hear today, with the Scripture that is read, with the prayers, with the creed, with the cannon of the Mass. But if they have no power, they are meaningless. We must seek the power of Christ inside of those words because words, well, they have meaning, but the name of Christ,… has power.
 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1915
 Luke 2:15-21
 Galatians 4:4-7