December 20, 2016

What's in a Name?

What’s in a name?

When Shakespeare’s Juliet asked the question, she knew the answer—there wasn’t enough power in any name to keep her and Romeo apart.

What’s in a name?

The biblical Book of Proverbs says that a good one is worth more than gold and silver.

What’s in a name?

My son’s emerged after Laura and I spent months examining the branches of our family trees.

What’s in a name?

My wheel making German ancestors are in mine.

Throughout Advent we’ve given our attention to a specific name—Emmanuel. In recent weeks we’ve considered the importance of this name, especially the part it plays in the ministry and writings of a prophet named Isaiah. It’s Isaiah, after all, who identifies Emmanuel—which means “God is with us”—as the chosen and anointed ruler of God’s people, a king who would reign over a Golden Age of peace and prosperity.

Stoked by Isaiah’s vision, faithful hearts prayed that this leader and this age would come quickly. For centuries the words of the iconic Advent chorus were their fervent prayer, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel."

In words we’ve shared this morning, those prayers and that chorus reach their grand crescendo.

Today we’ve heard Good News like no other.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” which means, “God is with us.”
For us and for our salvation, God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Kingdom of God drew near. The Promised One, the Chosen One, the Lord’s Anointed One—has arrived.

Mary had a baby who came to give us new life and who will come again to chase away the last pretender to his rightful throne.

Emmanuel has come into our lives.

But what’s in a name?

What’s in the name Emmanuel?

The truth is that Emmanuel holds within it the very essence of our faith. It’s the name that speaks of the kind of relationship we can have with God and the relationships we should have with one another.

It’s the name that locates our lives in the larger drama of God’s dealings with Creation, reminding us that our lives intrinsically have purpose and meaning.

And it’s the name with the unique power to break into our present circumstances and lead us in the way that we should go.

Emmanuel is a strong name and it deserves our attention this morning.

What’s in the name Emmanuel?

There’s strength for today and hope for tomorrow in the name Emmanuel.

One of the basic building blocks of the Good News is the conviction that Jesus Christ is the holy and unique embodiment of this divine promise, God is with us to bless and guide us in our present circumstances so that God might lead us into an even better tomorrow.

This is the Good News that we’re not alone—that at work, at home, in times of trouble and confusion we can turn toward and trust God.

Emmanuel brings us the greatest treasures of our life with God—daily bread, blessings for our families and loved one, the strength and wisdom to make good decisions about our children, parents and career.

The promise of Emmanuel God with us is that our lives can be better, more faithful and fulfilling, more radiant with love, and overflowing with joy and peace than they once were.

As we’ve been reminded throughout the season, the promise of Emmanuel is that the way things are is not the way things have to be because God isn’t interested in seeing us suffer or stumble our way through life.

What’s in the name?

Strength for today and hope for tomorrow, these blessings and promises are in the name.

In some circumstances, however, a name can become a curse instead a blessing. If you’re unfortunate enough to share a name with someone who has become famous for some nefarious deed, someone who is wanted by law enforcement, someone who has landed on a no-fly list, then you know about the baggage that a name can carry.

There is, for example, an episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine just can’t get over the fact that the perfectly nice guy she is dating shares a name with a headline grabbing criminal.

What does this have to do with the name Emmanuel though?

We know well that there’s a shameful legacy of people doing great harm to one another in the name of God. If we want to do better than that in our lives, in our relationships, and in our pursuit of justice, then we must confess that while the name Emmanuel is powerful, we can receive that power humbly, or arrogantly try to exploit it.

It is, after all, an incredibly audacious thing to say that, “God is with us.”

Trouble comes when we start believing and acting as though God is with because we’re just so great that we deserve Divine favor and that Jesus calls us to his Table because we’re brilliant company.

This attitude strikes at the very heart of grace and leads us to the sobering truth.

God isn’t with us because we’re great. God’s chooses to be with us because we’re sinners—we fall short—and we need God’s help to do better.

God isn’t with us to bless what we’re doing. God is with us so that we can become a blessing to others.

What’s in the name?

Some baggage? Yes. But there’s also the high and humble calling to place our trust in God’s goodness rather than in our supposed greatness and to embody the depth of God’s love by becoming ambassadors of God’s mercy and peace at work in the world.

An invitation to receive blessings humbly and to share blessings generously, these are in the name.

What’s in the name Emmanuel?

There’s strength for today and hope for tomorrow in the name Emmanuel.

What’s in the name Emmanuel?

An invitation to receive blessings humbly and to share blessings generously, these are in the name Emmanuel.

And there’s something else, too.

What’s in the name?

Your place in God’s great redemption story—that’s what’s in the name.

Martin Luther expounded on this point when the great reformer preached these words.

The Gospel does not merely teach us about the history of Christ. No, it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates. Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would be daily sung in my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own?

[The angel of Christmas] does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, Neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you I bring glad tidings of great joy.

What’s in the name Emmanuel?

God is in the name.

Our hopes and dreams are in the name.

The Church’s mission is in the name.

And you are in the name, too.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1: 18-23)

Thanks be to God for this name that is high above all others.

Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

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