Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Among New England Puritans,parents gave their daughters and sons names which fit the children’s personality and character.  Boys were named Constant and Fortune; girls Charity and Faith.

It was the same among ancient Jews.  A child's name was chosen because it described who the child was, and what the child was like.If you knew a person's name, you knew the person.

So it is with Jesus.  If we know his name, if we know what it means, and if we know the circumstances under which it was conferred, we know the man himself.

But it was God, not Jesus’ parents, who chose his name.  Before Mary conceived her son, she was visited by an angel--a messenger from God.  The angel gave her explicit instructions about the name she was to give her child, and about the Lord's intentions for him.

The angel said to her..., "And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great...and of his kingdom there will be no end.  (Luke 1:30-33)

Jesus bore the name given to him by God; and he bore the work given tohim by God.Mary's son was God's Son.  What happened with Jesus, happened by the will of God.

Not only is how Jesus received his name significant, so is the name itself.  In English, we know the name as Jesus.  But Jesus was not born into an English-speaking world; he was a Jewand the language of his people was a dialect of Hebrew.  In his own tongue his name was Yehoshu’a (יְהוֹשׁ֫וּעַ).  You will recognize the English version of his proper name: it isJoshua.  Had we been present in Jesus’ childhood home, we would have heard Mary calling, “Josh!  It’s time for dinner.”  But our English name“Jesus” does not come directly from Hebrew.  It passed in translation from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English, where we know it as Jesus.

This language lesson is important because when the original Hebrew form of the name was lost, so was its meaning.  In Hebrew, Jesus' name means "God will save," or "The Lord will liberate or rescue."  His name itself reveals Jesus' purpose, his mission and ministry:  he will save his people.  This child will save his people from the oblivion of death.  He will free them from their inflated sense of self-importance,from their inclination toward blood-thirstiness,from their habit of replacing God’s will with their own desires, from filling their hungry hearts with anything and everythingthat does not nourish,and from all those evils which God counts as sin.  Jesus/Joshua is graced with a special character and a special name to go with it.  To know Jesus' name is to know who he is and what he is.  He is the power of God's salvation.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus…(Luke 2:21)

This piece of surgery performed on Jewish males was a ceremony of initiation.  It was an incorporation, an inclusioninto the community of Israel, an induction into the fellowship of the people of God.  Note that the bestowal of Jesus’ name and his entry into the family of God go together.  His naming and his circumcision happen at the same time. The identity given to him by his name, and the identity given to him as a member of the chosen people, are connected in one event, they are intertwined by one act.

And this is where you come in.  You too have undergone an incorporation, an inclusion into the community of God's elect, an initiation into the fellowship of the people of God.  This happened to you at your Baptism.  Whoever baptized you, said something like this:

So-and-so (saying your name), I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The pastor spoke your name and called upon the name of the Lord in the same breath.  Your name, the name of Jesus, and your membership in the people of God, are all of one piece.  You are the people whom God has promised to save through his Son, Jesus.  You are baptized in his name:  you belong to him, you stand under his lordship, you have been given his help in every need, you are the inheritors of his Kingdom.  You know his name, and you know the meaning and power of his name for you and for all creation.

This Baptismal connection between Jesus’ name and your name, between him and you, continues your entire life.  Just consider our liturgy.  At the very beginning of it, we speak the name of Jesus when we say, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ...be with you all."  When we hear his name, we are reminded that in this time and place no one and no thing except Jesus has a claim on our devotion and loyalty.  Here we hail the power of his name alone.

There are probably not many hymns we sing nor prayers we pray which do not invoke the name of Jesus.  When we sing or say his name, we are confessing that he alone is worthy of our adoration, and that he alone is the source of our every help.

We even have his name made visible before us.  On the cover of your worship booklet, and on the medallion in that stained-glass window, are three letters which look like the English letters I H S.  They are not English but Greek, the first three letters of the name Jesus--iota-eta-sigma--ΙΗΣΟΥΣ.

You cannot escape the Holy Name.  It is in your ears, on your lips, and before your eyes.  His name and the freedom it brings surrounds you, engulfs you, envelopes you, encompasses you, cradles you.  Would you want any other way?  And even if you did, Jesus would not permit it.

In this morning's Second Lesson, Paul quotes a stanza from an early Christian hymn:

Therefore God also highly exulted him

      and gave him the name

      that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

      every knee should bend,

            in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

      that Jesus is Lord,

      to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:9-11)

From ancient times, many quarters of the Church have taken this Biblical injunction literally:  every time the name of Jesus is pronounced during worship, people bend the knee in a genuflection of respect and humility.  In these days, when respect and humility are in such short supply, when we bow down to so many false gods, it is good to knowthat the Name of Jesus is so honored by those whom he came to save.

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.