In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A name is never just a name. Consider what happens in your mind when someone mentions to you a name, especially if you know more than one person by that name. It makes a difference to whom that name is attached. In fact, it might determine your entire response, based on whom that name belongs to. Which Tim? Which John? Which Jim? Which Melissa? Which Jennifer? Which Susan? (No, I’m not talking about you.) A name without a person is just a collection of letters. But attached to a person, it begins to mean something.
Not that those letters mean nothing in themselves. We seem to have forgotten this in our modern age of strange and unique baby names. But it does matter what names mean. We were considering boy names and we came across what we thought was a strong and masculine name—which may or may not have had anything to do with a former Seahawk quarterback—Zorn. Unfortunately, in German “Zorn” means “wrath.” Probably not something you want to name your son. And then we found a girl’s name we both liked, Maeve. But we discovered that in Irish mythology or legend, Maeve means something like “seductress.” Again, probably not something you want to name your daughter. (Apologies to any Maeves out there.)
But more than any of our names, and more than the names we give to our children, the name of Jesus means something. Which Jesus are you talking about? Maybe you don’t know anyone named Jesus in English—although you may know someone named Jesus in Spanish. But in Hebrew, the name is Yah-shua: Joshua. Perhaps you know a Joshua or two. That’s the same name in Hebrew as the Greek name Jesus. Which Joshua? The one who is born of Mary, the virgin from Nazareth. And His name is not just a collection of letters, but it means everything. Yah-shua, Yahweh’s salvation. Yahweh, the Name of God that He revealed to Moses at the burning bush, has sent His salvation into the world, and it is Jesus. That’s why there are no other options for Joseph and Mary. No looking through baby books, or considering the names of relatives. “You shall call His Name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” So they named Him Jesus, the name the angel had given them before He was born.
You or I might want, sometimes, to distance our names from something we say or do. Someone might begin to associate our names with something we’ve said or done, and it might not be something we want associated with our name. Or we might associate something with someone else’s name that he or she might like to forget. We want to prove that who we are is not necessarily the same as what we said or did. But when it comes to Jesus, there is no distance between His name and what He says or does. He is what He says. He does what He is. You shall call His Name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Yah-shua. Yahweh’s salvation. Jesus doesn’t just bring salvation. He doesn’t just speak about salvation. He doesn’t, even, simply accomplish salvation. He is the salvation of God. His Name is what He does, what He is, who He is.
He is Yahweh’s salvation. He is the salvation of God wrapped up in flesh and blood. But He is not that salvation only in general, or that salvation only for the whole world. He is that salvation for you. O blessed Jesus, be Thou indeed a Jesus to me! Be Jesus for me. Be Yahweh’s salvation to and for me. Because of everything I’ve associated with my name; bruised and scarred my name, the sinful life that goes by my own name—let your Name stand for me. Do not let my sinful life blot out or cover up your Name. Instead, let your Name blot out and cover up my life.
His Name stands. He will never let anyone or anything change His Name, or cause it to be anything other than the salvation of God. Nothing that you do or say will change the holiness of His Name. It is holy in itself. But we pray that it would be holy also for and among us. That His Name would mark and cover you. And so it does. He was conceived and born and named Jesus. By that Name, He entered into the covenant marked with circumcision, and kept it fully, perfectly. Now, you are not marked by circumcision, but you are baptized into the Name of the one who was circumcised as the keeper of the covenant that God had made with people. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. And since the Son can never be apart from the Father and the Spirit, you are baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. One God, one Name, one baptism. The Lord bless you…the Lord keep you…the Lord turn the face of His favor toward you. Thus shall you put My Name upon the people, and I shall bless them. His Name, Yahweh’s salvation, is the blessing He has put upon you. And now it is no longer your name that distances you from God and from other people. Now, whatever anyone might attach to your name, rightly or wrongly, the Name that matters is His Name. Jesus. Yahweh’s salvation to and for you. O blessed Jesus, be Thou indeed a Jesus to me! Let your holy name be holy with respect to me. Be Thou Jesus to me in this life. Be Thou Jesus to me in death. Be Thou Jesus to me in the final judgment. Be Thou Jesus to me in eternal life (John Gerhard). A name is never just a name. For you and for me, the Name of Jesus is everything. May it be so for 2017 as it was for 2016, and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/31/16