What’s in a name? by Pastor Noel

  • January 1, 2017

Dec 31/Jan 1  The Holy Name of Jesus


      “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus There’s something about that name

      Master, Savior, Jesus, Like the fragrance after the rain

      Jesus, Jesus, Jesus Let all heaven and earth proclaim

      Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away

      But there’s something about that name.” 

      I couldn’t help but think of this song by the Gaithers as I pondered what to say today.  (You can find this in Lift Every Voice and Sing, by the way)

      While most of the world is celebrating New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, in here we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

      This is also known as The Feast of the Circumcision. It is the day on which Jesus officially received his name. The name Mary was told to give him.

      Jesus means “he will save his people,” so it is a powerful name! But to know how he saves us, we need more than his name.

      Names are important. I once had a cat that my son named Rover, because it was the only animal name he knew. People would look around for a dog when the cat was mentioned, because it had the “wrong” name!

      How many of us thought we had the wrong name as children and wanted to be called something else. I used to hate being serenaded at Christmas, but now I like being named Noël.

      In the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, names have important meaning. The name Adam, comes from adama, soil. It reminds us that we are tied to the earth, and return to earth when we die.

      Havva is the Hebrew name that we call Eve, and it means life-giver. In one of the creation stories, Adam is given the ability to name the animals. Then he has power over them.

      God has many names, too. In fact, God is not a name but a description, and none of them, not even all of them together, can fully describe God.

      When Moses asks God for his name, God replies (in the Hebrew) “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” or “I will be there howsoever I will be there.” We hear that sometimes as “I am who I am.”

      Because knowing someone’s name gives us power over them, our Jewish brothers and sisters do not say or write this name for God, but use the initials, YHWH. From that we have given God the names Yahweh, and Jehovah.

      There are many descriptions of God in the Scriptures. They sound like names, and they also tell stories. For example: El, and Elohim—god; Adonai—lord; El Shaddai—God Almighty: Jah—which we find in many other names such as Elijah, Jeremiah, Joshua, John. And which we sing as “hallelujah.”

      We also find many other descriptive names, such as Master of the world, Master of creation, Most High, Endless, Infinite, Clother of the naked, Freer of captives, Healer, Guardian, Support of the downtrodden, Peace bringer.

      These descriptions tell us of the experience of God’s people. These were the ways they felt God’s presence with them. They couldn’t say God’s name, but they could tell about God and God’s love and care for them.

      From the Hebrew Scriptures we also get names and descriptions we use for Jesus. 

      One list comes from Isaiah, and we heard it at Christmas. We probably know it better from Handel’s “Messiah”— even though Handel took liberty with the list to fit his music.

       Isaiah was writing about the birth of an important child. Who that child was, in Isaiah’s time, we don’t know. But the words have been linked to Jesus, and they are fitting.

      Isaiah writes, “Authority rests on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

      Isaiah also says that this child will uphold peace with God’s righteousness and justice.  That does sound like Jesus.

      Handel’s music says “Wonderful…….Counselor” but the message is basically the same as what Isaiah wrote.

      It’s easy to see why those words have been used to describe Jesus. But they still don’t tell about how he saves us.

      Today we hear other words to describe Jesus—the wonderful hymn from the Letter to the Philippians. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

      Paul goes on to describe Jesus humility and his trusting in God, but that doesn’t explain how he would “save his people.”

      We don’t get much explanation from the hymn we sing, “At the Name of Jesus,” that comes from that other hymn. We get a deeper glimpse into Paul’s thoughts, and a mystical understanding of the cosmic aspect of Jesus.

      We do get a clue as to how we can understand what Jesus does for us. In the hymn we sing that Jesus was “from the beginning…the mighty Word.”

      Jesus, who will save his people, is God’s Word. Not a spoken word, or even a word carved in stone, but God’s activity, God’s behavior, God’s personality.

      Jesus was God Incarnate. God with flesh on him. God in person, showing us how we can be like God, too.

      We cannot be Master of the world (although many people have tried!). We cannot be Father of Creation, or endless, or infinite, as we find in God’s early names.

      But we can see how Jesus showed us about God. Showed us ways that we can be like God. With God’s help.

      We can clothe the naked—we did that at Thanksgiving with the car load of clothes for Galilee Mission. We can give new life to people as we help them with food and housing, as we help them find jobs and dignity. That is how we engage in God’s righteousness and justice.

      We can experience how Jesus saves as we experience him as a freer of captives.

      We are all captive to things in life that are not prisons or chains, but are unhealthy and negative for us.

      Learning to let go is freeing and brings us peace.

      If I were to have one name for Jesus that shows how he saves, it would be Prince of Peace.

      Jesus shows us how to have peace with ourselves because God loves us. We are God’s beloved children. That’s peace.

      Jesus shows us how to have peace with others by being welcoming and loving. By respecting everyone’s dignity. By sharing and reaching out in love to let others know they are God’s beloved. That’s having the same mind as Jesus. That’s peace.

      Jesus shows us how to have peace in the world by walking away from violence and hatred. When he says “turn the other cheek” he is saying turn and walk away.

      He is saying don’t get involved in anger and retaliation. Do get involved to bring God’s justice where it is lacking. Work for laws that bring the values of God’s kingdom so everyone has a fair share. That’s peace and righteousness.

      Jesus’ death on the cross shows how he saves his people. Our salvation is not about going to heaven or hell. Our salvation is about having lives of peace and love and hope now. 

      Our salvation is knowing God to be loving and forgiving, merciful and peaceful. And calling us to be that way, too.

      God showed us peace by a peaceful response to Jesus’ death.

 No retaliation or revenge. Just peace and new life.

      God is always trying to lead us to the freedom of new life to be our true selves and to let others be their true selves, too.

      That’s the way Jesus shows us to experience God. It is how Jesus followed God, and invites us to follow him.

      Is this easy? (Do I really have to ask?)

      If it were, how different our world would be! No, it’s not easy. And there are things that each of us can do, in our own ways, to show that we are following Jesus.

      Jesus. Yes, there is something about that name.

      And, I hope that you don’t stop at his name. I hope that you remember and experience all the ways in which Jesus shows us God. I hope you put those ways to life in your life.   

      That is how Jesus will save his people.







The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details