St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, January 2, 2022
“God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
WHAT’S in a name? All arguments aside—even those familiar lines from the lovers’ dialogue in Romeo and Juliet—a name is still a powerful thing. God’s spoken Word created all that has ever existed in the universe, and just His naming a thing appears to have brought that thing into being. He gave the first man power to name all the creatures he found around him. Most names have a meaning that’s more than just a sound or set of letters. An elephant or a rhinoceros must have names that sound as big as they are, just as an ant, bee or tick must be something very small.
So, when our Lord was promised to His mother and earthly father: the angel told them both to name this son “Jesus”.
Jesus is the English form of Y’shua or Joshua, which means God saves, indicating a Deliverer. It was an appropriate name for the Jewish hero Joshua, who carried that name and led the children of Israel across Jordan to conquer the Promised Land, delivering them from their wanderings and slavery. It was also the name of Hosea (another form of Y’shua), chosen to experience something like God Himself: to be married to an unfaithful bride. Hosea brought his wife from harlotry to a married state more than once. When the angel Gabriel named the son of Mary Y’Shua, the name said Who He was to be: the Savior of the world.
Just like at our Baptisms, the naming of a Jewish boy is done at his circumcision, which we remember on January 1st because Jesus was circumcised 8 days after His birth. Obediently, Joseph and Mary gave Him the Name Jesus, Savior.
In His own words and in scriptures regarding Him, Jesus would be given many other names, titles and descriptions, as many as 200. Among them are: the last Adam, our Advocate and Mediator, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the Bread of Life, our Bridegroom, the Chief Cornerstone, our Creator, Eternal Life, the Firstborn From the Dead, the Gate of the sheep and the Good Shepherd, our Great High Priest, the Head of the Church, the Heir of all things, the Holy One, our Hope, the great I AM, the Image of God, Immanuel or God with us, Judge of the living and the dead, King of kings and Lord of lords, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, Light of the World, the Morning Star, the Only Begotten Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, the Righteous One, our Rock, Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Way the Truth and the Life, and the Word of God. He would earn the title of Christ, Messiah, Anointed One: a very special longed-for Person to bring the whole world under God’s dominion through being uniquely a priest, prophet and king. He was all that mankind ever hoped for, and dreaded, and needed, and despised. His life was the watershed of all humanity, dividing forever the saved from the damned.
The name Jesus gets a reaction. It makes some people quiet. Others taunt Him and use His Name as a curse. His existence raises the stakes, confronts evil, shines a light on things, proclaims truth, and makes holiness a real possibility for us who claim Him as our Savior. Think of a world without Him, and you will know what hell on earth can be. A world with Him is, thus far, a world divided over Him, but it remains the central question for all people great and small: “What do you say of Jesus Christ, and do you take Him for your own Savior and Lord?”
The Old Testament often speaks of a special Person who was going to come. Jesus read out one such passage in Isaiah to His hometown of Nazareth, the lesson for our Epistle today, proclaiming God’s Spirit to be on Him, with God’s appointment to preach good news, heal despair, free those in spiritual bondage, and announce God’s day of judgment. His hometown crowd thought He was getting above Himself.
We may feel that way ourselves sometimes, when His presence in our lives judges us, or cramps our style. The Savior divides the sheep from the goats, but before that, He identifies that goat-ness in our lives and asks of us, “Will you let that go and leave it behind for my sake? Will you follow me and let the tyranny of your sins cease ruling you?”
The name Savior doesn’t mean an automatic blind amnesty for all humanity, but the possibility to choose Him and live. He is a lifeboat on the waters of a flood. We may still drown, or we may let ourselves be hauled onboard with gratitude.
Being called “Savior” has its obvious difficulties. It raises everyone’s expectations of you. If a young boy or girl were called “the light of the world” or “God’s promised deliverer” today it would certainly bring a hostile reaction from people who immediately challenge such audacity. Challenges to Jesus’ Name have gone on now for 2,000 years. Yet He stands unsullied, and every accusation against Him has fallen silent, all His detractors are given very ample answers to their flawed arguments against His being God’s own Salvation for all people everywhere.
What does the Name of Jesus do to you when you hear it? Something in my heart aches a bit: it’s a yearning, a love mingled with pain and grief for the evil we made Him endure. Everyone’s relationship with Him has had some difficult patches, some falling away, some failing to live up to the vows we made at Baptism. If we know anything about Him, it is that we can’t get away from Him. I tried once, and it was only pain and sorrow to me. I thought it would mean the world’s redemption and my freedom from religious boundaries and regulations, but it only meant degradation.
If once the Name of Jesus has been spoken over you, He will not leave you alone. You are no longer your own master—as if you ever were. When the Holy Spirit has entered your life, He is on your trail from that day forward. You might still resist to the end and fall endlessly downward, but you’ll never be able to say He wasn’t there for you. Jesus, your Savior, said, “I am with you, even to the end of the world.”
We try everything else. We try medicine. We try yoga. We try romantic intrigues. We try danger. We try possessions. We try to live a very long time. We try fad diets, political parties, self-help books, new jobs, giant entertainment systems, read the Great Books, surf the information superhighway, walk labyrinths, hang crystals, read horoscopes, call psychic hotlines, do psychoanalysis, acupuncture, health spas, online dating, casual friendships, and lost causes—galore. No other path leads to Him. He is right here; He is the very path we must walk to be united with God. It’s so simple, and so offensive, and so life-changing, powerful, trustworthy, and sadly so seldom used.
Even Christians have trouble staying with Jesus. “Follow me” is not an easy command to live out. By ‘follow me’ He means: “Hang on! This is going to be a bit rough. Buckle your seatbelt. Take this helmet and put it on. Don’t fret about what you see—you can trust me to get you safely home. Just keep your head down and your arms inside the vehicle.” It’s just like that boat in the raging storm that was taking water with Jesus asleep in the stern. As His followers, we may disconcert ourselves by what He leads us through. You may face it as fun and excitement, or see only terror and dismay, but it’s His life lived through you. Jesus, the Savior, is able to do in you what He was able to do in His own great life. And that always includes a crucifixion.
It’s the start of a new year. 2022 can be an awesome year for you and me. “We’ll see,” might be your reaction to that statement, and surely the last two years were a rough ride for all of us. But “We’ll see,” is not the Christian outlook. Who is your savior? Who is your lord? Just what is He capable of? And what can’t He do?
We hang by one hand clutched to a tree root over the face of a cliff, our bodies dangling above a great fall below. That’s mankind today, and every day since the world began. Our arms are tired. Our grip is weakening. Our confidence in our own strength is shrunk to where we’ll take any answer that offers itself. His offer says, “Let go. I am here. I have you. You can trust me. But you have to let go.” Our prayer has been answered. Our Savior has spoken to us. His assurance is trustworthy, and still… we cling to our thread. Will we trust the Savior with our lives? Will we believe that His Name is powerful? Jesus said that when we pray with faith in His Name, God answers and gives us everything that we need. In the Name of Jesus, thousands were baptized on the first day of the Church, the lame were healed, demonized people released from the devil’s clutches, the dead raised up.
“Let go. I am here. I have you…”
Do you trust this savior? Can you let go of your former answers to your life’s problems? Is He able to do all that He promised? Are the Scriptures true?
God exalted His Son and gave Him a name above every name: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:10-11
“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
If we even call Him by His Name, we name Him our Savior.
What is in a name?
In His Name, we have everything we ever needed.