St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 2019
“Joseph thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
EVERYONE has a name. Even God has a name. But His name is not “God.” What is God’s Name? We have heard it as Jehovah. But that’s actually wrong. The Hebrew language from which Jehovah was transliterated has no ‘J’ sound. Jehovah is an attempt to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters Y-H-W-H given by God to Moses, that we translate I AM THAT I AM, suggesting the possible pronunciation “Yahweh.” But the Hebrew letters don’t have vowels, and this is a guess. Furthermore, it is the meaning rather than a proper name that God gave Moses from the burning bush. It means that God truly exists, and is in fact self-existence. No one else can say that. But we don’t insist that this is God’s own eternal Name, the Name He calls Himself.
What the Son calls the Father we don’t know. The appellations of Father and Son are convenient references given for us, given by Jesus for us to know the relationship between these two Persons of the Trinity, as also Holy Spirit is a description, and not likely His own holy Name.
As a kind of shorthand, people refer to the Son as Jesus even when speaking about His divine Person existing before His Incarnation. When God spoke “Let there be light,” the Word was uttered and light was the result: and we see in this the activity of the Son. But to say “Jesus made light” is to insert a name that had not yet been given. For the name Jesus or His title Christ were yet to come at His conception and birth, a long time later.
There is something important in a name. When we’re born, our parents have a struggle finding just the right name to hang on us. I ended up with the same first name as my father, and so they needed to use a nickname for me all my childhood. But I wasn’t Pete Jr., as my middle name was different from his, and anyway I was named Peter after my great-grandfather, a Danish sea captain who settled in California after navigating the treacherous Straits of Magellan. The Hansens invaded California in the late 1800s and my ancestor ran a supply boat thereafter up and down the Sacramento River.
But who am I? That’s another story. The word Peter means a rock. I guess I am sort of a chunk. Hard-headed for sure. I do like St. Peter from the Gospel, and I’m like him in some ways, not in others. Our common name doesn’t make us the same person. There have been a lot of Peters who were really different from me. So, what does the name Peter mean? My father, Peter, was an actor. My great granddad a salty sailor. I’m a priest and bishop. We’re all Peter, so what’s in a name?
An angel told Mary she was to have a special child by the Holy Spirit, to be called the Son of God, whose name was to be JESUS. The angel told her fiancé, “Joseph thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matt 1:20-21
JESUS is the same name we translate from Hebrew for Joshua, actually Yehowshuwa—Y because we know there’s no J in Hebrew. This name joins Yehovah or I AM, God’s self-given name, to yasha meaning to save. God has saved us. JESUS is God the Savior, a name of great meaning.
When his human parents took him to the rabbi for His circumcision, His name was given JESUS, as we celebrate this coming Wednesday with Luke’s Gospel: “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:21 We name children at their baptisms, and the Jews named their baby boys at circumcision.
Jesus has many other names. Isaiah was told the Virgin’s son would be Emmanuel, meaning God with us. Jesus is called the Rock, upon which we stand and are safe. St. John calls His eternal Person the Word of God, in Greek, the Logos. He is the Christ, the Jews’ Messiah, or Anointed One. He is the Son of David, Son of Man, Lamb of God, the New Adam, the Light of the World, the Living Bread, the Lord our Righteousness, the Branch of Jesse.
Jesus describes Himself as Alpha and Omega, the Good Shepherd, the King of kings, the Morning Star, the Resurrection and the Life, the True Vine, the Way, the truth, and the Cornerstone once rejected by Builders. But of these, which is the real name of Jesus?
In its dizzying visions of the end times, the Book of Revelation gives us a great many of these names or titles for Jesus. In John’s vision, Jesus promises us that “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name;” Rev 3:12 and “I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” Rev 2:17 He has a hidden name, and will have a new name that He will inscribe on us. We ourselves will have new names.
This naming thing goes on. Revelation includes characters who are much like you and me, because the story does include you and me.
St. Paul wrote us today, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons . . . you are a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Gal 4:4-7 Sons and Daughters of God in Christ, we are a family bought by the Blood of the Perfect One. He gave us the right to call His Father, Our Father, when we pray. And we can pray to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They are all God, and they all hear prayers. And God especially hears the prayers of the children of God’s family. He has a name for you that you’ve never heard, nor could you understand it if He told you right now. (And no, it isn’t knucklehead.)
Names tell stories, and the American Indians gave names to their children based on events in the child’s life. Stays at home, Looks up, Talks while walking, or Lives in the woods are actual names. Of our European names, many have meanings as well. Brian means high or noble. Cassandra means Shining upon man. Giti is the Universe. But these names are only shadows of what we shall someday be called.
God loves to give names. Some of His names aren’t rewards for good behavior, as when Israel was disobedient and idolatrous. When His people turned back to Him, their new names were more complimentary. When God names something, He not only gives it a title, but the very act of naming is an act of creation. God saying, “Let there be light,” is an act of naming and making something all at once. Of Jesus, St. Paul writes, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:9-11 The Name chosen by God for His Incarnate Son was meaningful, creative and holy. We revere the Name Jesus, and actually bow at each instance He’s named in worship.
We know that we’ve been created in His image and likeness, and therefore we share some of that naming-creating power. When we give something a good name, we bestow it with goodness. We call our car Stallion, or Rocket, or just mine, and so lend it some of our personality and approval, and thus see it shine, hear it purr, love to get in it and drive. If we call it Old Beater, or a Bucket of Junk, guess what?
More importantly, be careful what you call another human being. I have never liked the term ‘rug rat’ for instance. Call somebody a tool, or pinhead, idiot or question his parents’ legitimacy, and you not only make an enemy, you injure him. Bad names for women make objects and slaves of them.
We create or we destroy, and the power is on our lips. That is because we can name things. God gave Adam the job of naming all the creatures on earth. Girrrrraffe! El-e-phant! That was fun, and it joined us in the creative process God had started. We name things and fellow creatures likewise with this remnant power God used to create them at first. So, be careful what you call your kids, your fellow man, your co-workers, students, teachers, and the person you just met. The power of a name, even a description, is to put a hat on somebody. And the more authority you have, the greater is the power you wield to bless or curse another with a name.
St. James’ Epistle has a lecture on this. He speaks of the power of the tongue. We steer a horse with a mere bridle. We turn a ship with the small rudder at the stern. A tongue is small, but may set an entire forest ablaze. We tamed the beasts because we named them. How can we tame our own mouths? “Out of one mouth proceed blessing and cursing.” James 3:10
So, call Him Jesus. That’s a name given to the Son of God when He also became the Son of Mary. As Incarnate God and man, He is our Savior. Without the Incarnation, unless God takes flesh as one of us, there is no salvation for us. He died on the cross, and rose from the dead, certainly, but first He had to be born in this world, a full and complete man. Those heroic deeds couldn’t have taken place unless Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus Christ, a single Person with two natures, human and divine, hadn’t first come to us at Bethlehem. His conception set in motion the machinery of our salvation. Once He was born, nothing could stop it. What followed was inevitable.
We celebrate Christ’s birth for 12 days, a season of joy at this quiet arrival. No one but shepherds and the holy family were shown just who He was by God that night. Next Sunday, we will begin our observance of Epiphany, the shining forth, the revelation of God’s Son to the entire world.
Jesus is the name by which all people everywhere are to know Him and worship Him, whether it’s pronounced Jesu, Isa, or Yeshuah. His name means Savior, and so He is.
Someday we will receive new names, and that will change us, making us forever His own.