The Word This Weekend – December 3, 2017
“What’s in a Name?”
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
And so it begins again. Thanksgiving is barely in the rear-view mirror, and off we go into the Season of Advent. These four Sundays, and the weeks that surround them, bring us ever closer to the event of the coming of the Christ into our world. Along the way we are reminded of the ultimate coming of the Lord at the End of Days, we join John the Baptizer at the edge of the Jordan, and we travel with the Holy Family as they journey far from home and safety to birth the Savior of all -- the one named Jesus.
What’s in a Name? This is not an unimportant question, not during Advent or at any other time. Names are a matter of deep seriousness to the Biblical story, though the meaning and significance of names is often obscured in English and other translations of the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
And names mean a lot to us moderns as well. Our four children all bore names that meant a great deal to their mother and me. Elizabeth, our firstborn, is a Hebrew word meaning, “Dedicated to the House of the Lord.” Timothy, our second, means “Honoring God.” Our youngest, Hannah, born in our later life, reminds us of the mother of Samuel, granted the joy of a child likewise late in her life, and the prophetess who testified to Christ at his dedication in the Temple.
That leaves our younger boy, Joshua. My father, Bill Sr., had made me promise I wouldn’t name him William. I was the fourth in a line of “William Lonsdale’s,” and he felt that was enough. I acceded to his wishes, though “Joshua William” still allowed me to carry on the name for one more generation at least.
What’s in a name? Well sometimes it comes from family tradition or remembrance, and sometimes it’s the underlying meaning of the name itself. In Joshua’s case it was not finally about “carrying Grandpa Bill’s name” – it was about the far more important person whose name he bears. For Joshua is the Hebrew form of a name we all know so well, and remember especially at this Advent time of year: Yeshua, or, in Greek -- Jesus.
The prophet Jeremiah saw such a name and such a vocation, from the distance of many centuries. “The LORD is our Righteousness” is the name he gave to the one who would bring peace to God’s people, seen from afar during a time of tumult and dislocation such as Israel and Judah had never known before. When personal righteousness had miserably failed, and the loss of national identity and security was slipping away under the force of empires and cruel exile, the prophet sees the coming of the One who will redeem the Nation and secure peace with God and justice in the land.
And half a millennium later, after centuries of occupation and oppression, that promise is renewed in the angelic promise of a Savior. “And you shall name him Jesus (Joshua), for he will save his people from their sins.” Joshua, which means “The LORD saves,” is to be the name of Mary’s son and Joseph’s ward. What’s in a Name couldn’t be more clear in this case: the Redeemer for whom Jeremiah longed and God’s people waited is on the wing. Right down to his name, his mission is one of rescue and redemption for all who rest in his name and his promise.
As we embark on the journey of Advent 2017, I invite you to carve out time for worship and reflection during these oh-so-busy days. Come and worship, take time to pray, pause to ponder, and light the sacred candles, day by day and week by week. Come to the true meaning and center of this sacred Season of Lights – the Light that brings Light to everyone, coming into the world and into our hearts. Come wade in the Water, feast at the Table, and cleave to the Word made flesh. Come discover what’s waiting in the Jordan, and who lies breathing in the Manger. And realize anew why there can be Joy to the World, even when the world seems more dark than bright.
Come and see what’s in a Name.
With You in God’s Good Work,