The Holy Gospel according to Luke.
Glory to you, O Lord.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What’s in a name?
When I was born, my parents, Mom really, were expecting me to be a girl and they were going to name me Amy. My being a boy caught them off guard without a name and unlike Mary, they didn’t have any angels to guide them in making a decision. Before the hospital would release me to go home they needed a name for the birth certificate and my mom just blurted out Donald Edward. Afterward, When my mom saw it written on paper, she was concerned that my name had too many D’s in it. I’ve never noticed.
When I was little, most people called me by my first nickname, Donnie. When I hit puberty, I thought that sounded a little childish and asked people to start calling me Don, which most did. Today, there is a select group of people, mostly older relatives and friends from my earliest days, who still call me Donnie but most call me Don.
One of my longtime friends couldn’t get used to calling me Don so he started calling me by initials, DB. We both ended up working at Church camp together and so all the staff there called me DB. Most of them still do.
So all the nicknames I’ve had were just variations of my given name, Donald and didn’t mean anything more than that. There were a few other names I’ve been called that did mean something, but they weren’t really nicknames and probably shouldn’t be mentioned in a church setting.
In case you’re wondering about my name, Donald is Gaelic for World Ruler and Edward is Old English for Rich Guardian. You probably won’t be surprised to know that I’ve never measured up to either of those names and really haven’t even tried.
Today, we celebrate the naming of Mary’s child with the name of Jesus,
Jesus, it turns out, also has many nicknames and many titles, all of which reveal something about his purpose or character. Here’s a poster of some of those names.
Some websites claim there are over 200 different nicknames and titles for Jesus. I thought we’d hit on just a few of those today, focusing on the ones related to his birth.
His name, Jesus, means the “the Lord is Salvation” or “the Lord saves”.
Just five verses before today’s gospel, the angels told the shepherds in part, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Again, he is called a Savior which could also be interpreted as deliverer or preserver. One who will deliver us from oppression.
Messiah is often translated as Christ and means the same thing, “Anointed One”. In Old Testament culture, those who were chosen by God for some great task, kings especially, were anointed, usually with oil, as a sign of their being especially selected. It is also used to refer to someone who will deliver a group of people from oppression of some sort.
At Jesus birth, Israel had a king, Herod the Great, who only served through the pleasure of the Roman, Caesar Augustus. Herod was not jewish by bloodline although he did somewhat follow the Jewish faith. Herod wasn’t that interested in saving the people from oppression or bringing peace to the land. What he was interested in was gaining and holding onto power. So much so that he had one of his wives and three of his sons executed because he considered them threats to his power.
After Herod died Israel was divided into three parts by the Romans which were ruled ruled first by three of his sons, Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Phillip. By the time Jesus was an adult, Herod Archelaus, who ruled over the part that contained Jerusalem had been removed from power by Caesar Augustus and a Roman governor had been installed in his place. At Jesus’ death, this was Pontius Pilate.
The people of the time were waiting for the promised Messiah, who had been prophesied about hundreds of years earlier. They knew he would come from the family line of the great King David and they were expecting some great warrior who could defeat their enemies, currently the Romans, take the title of king and bring peace and prosperity to the land through the power of his reign.
Herod the Great was worried enough about the birth of this baby who would be king that he ordered the death of all the male children two year old and younger in the region, according to the Gospel of Matthew.
He was not what the people expected.
What do you expect when you think of Jesus? Do you expect a conquering hero who will fix all your problems? Do you expect him to bring you prosperity if you just believe hard enough? Do you expect him to treat you tit for tat, that he’ll let you into heaven if you just do enough good stuff?
Instead of being what the Israelites expected, this king, this Son of David, was born to a working class family and laid in a manger, surrounded by smelly, dirty, shepherds and probably a few animals. He grew up in the village of Nazareth, far from the power halls of Jerusalem. As an adult, he worked as an itinerant rabbi with a small, motley crew of followers for three years before being betrayed by one of them to the High Priests and getting crucified by the Romans. So, how well did Jesus measure up to his name, nicknames, and titles? Let’s see.
As I said, Jesus means “the Lord saves”. This is literally what he came into the world to do. He did come to save them from oppression, but not from the Romans. In fact, probably referring to the Romans, he told them to turn the other cheek when struck and to give away your shirt when your coat is taken.
He did come to save them from war, but not through the use of force, but rather though the use of love. Soldiers were still an ever present reality.
He did come to save them from disease and healed many people, but not all of them.
We did come to save them from want but then said things like, “the poor will be with you always,” and, “Sell everything you own and follow me.” And he was right, we do still have people in varying degrees of want, some in desperate poverty.
So, did Jesus measure up to his name, “the Lord Saves”? Well I think most the people of his time would have said no, he was not the Messiah and was instead a blaspheming failure. Certainly that’s what the priests, scribes, and Pharisees thought.
I think many people today would still say no.
- To this day, people are still being oppressed.
- To this day, we still don’t have peace in the world.
- To this day we still have disease and death from it today.
But, if we look at what the Angel told Joseph in a dream in the Gospel of Matthew, “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This is what Jesus came to do. “Save the people from their sins.” All the other stuff that he did is wonderful and we should seek to do those same things as much as possible, but the main reason he came was to save us from our sins.
He came to do this out of love. He gave up his place in heaven to come to us and live among us and teach us how to also love. When we love, we are more apt to forgive sins. He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself..” “Love your enemies, love those who persecute you.” He told us to forgive, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
To accomplish this task of saving us from our sins he took our sins upon himself then allowed his life to be taken from him after a mock trial even though he was without sin. Having paid our sin debt, he then beat the power of death three days later and rose from the grave to eternal life. Before ascending back to heaven, he promised to be with us to the end of time.
He did this for the people of Israel and he did this for you and for me. We have been forgiven, saved from our sins. All we have to do is trust him in that. We may still be oppressed. We may still have wars. We may still have disease or be poor or have any number of any issues in our lives. But we can know that regardless of what happens to us, death will not have the last word because Jesus has set us free from guilt and shame and guaranteed us eternal life.
So yes, I would say that Jesus has quite lived up to his name, in the way that only God can.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus.