God's New Name for Us
What is your name? What’s the name people call you, and what is the name that God knows you by?
Names hold an important place throughout the Bible. We read in many places throughout the Scriptures how God changes people’s name. Abram becomes Abraham. Jacob becomes Israel. Simon becomes Peter the rock. Saul the persecutor becomes Paul the Apostle to the nations.
Jesus uses names and even titles to describe each one of us. Sometimes He calls us servants, followers, disciples, and co-workers. The names become more intimate as we enter into a deeper relationship with Him - He calls us friends, His prize possession, His holy nation. He even reminds us that we are His children, His heirs, living stones of a new temple, even temples of His Holy Spirit.
Names are important. They identify who we are, where we came from, whose family we are a part of. Maybe that is why Matthew begins His Gospel with a genealogy, a list of 42 names, which we read today as the beginning of the Christmas story. He reminds His reader of the earthly lineage from which Jesus came. This list of names reminds us that Christmas is fundamentally about God entering into a human family. Remember, Jesus became one of us, He became fully human without giving up His divine nature.
What is so fascinating, though, is that the 42 names in the lineage of Jesus are full of diverse people, from heroic saintly men to shameful sinners. They’re all part of Jesus’ earthly family. An example of this would be to look at the women’s names in the lineage. Since Matthew offers a Jewish lineage, it would be expected that the names would only be that of the father. Yet, four female names are mentioned, and the surprise is that these female names include a woman who was a prostitute, a woman who was a foreigner, a non-Jew, and a woman who was seduced to commit adultery. And the male list itself isn’t much better. Not a very flattering lineage for the Savior of the world to be a part of, and yet, this is the heritage Jesus took upon Himself.
And maybe He consciously entered into this particular family tree to make a point. He has come to help lift people up from their brokenness, their bondage, their sinfulness, their darkness, and to give them new names, names that will help them fulfill the potential that God has placed within them. We heard this clearly from the angel who told Joseph in the Christmas story, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit and she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Mt 1:20-21)
Jesus enters into a particular family, and into the world itself, to save each and every sinner from their sins, from that which separates them from God, and even from the reward of sin, which is death itself!
Here is the “good news of great joy” which Christmas brings – we have a Savior who will take us as we are, and change us into something new. He offers us the option to become a new creation. No matter what we have done, no matter how we have failed or fallen short of our God-given calling and potential, He promises us that if we follow Him, and allow Him to be born anew in our hearts, we can become a new creation! As one of the Christmas hymns we will hear tonight says, “Christ is born so that He might raise up the formerly fallen image of humanity.”
Think about your deepest, darkest secret. Maybe it is from years ago, and still acts as a heavy burden in your memory. Maybe it’s a more recent failing, or an ongoing dark habit. We all have fallen short of the glory of God, plenty of times, and that failing, that brokenness, that darkness may seem to stain our name, and give us the feeling of hopelessness.
And yet, here comes God, taking on our human form, lifting up our humanity to touch His divinity. As Saint Athanasios the Great put it, “God became human, so that humans could become godlike.”
Jesus calls each one of us by name and says, “I knew you before you were born. I made you and formed you in the womb of your mother. I called you into existence. I love you with an everlasting love. I want you to be with me forever to behold my glory. I came to be born at Christmas not just in Bethlehem, but in your heart. Will you receive me? Do you hear me calling? Behold, I have been standing, calling, and knocking at the door of your soul all these years. I come to release you from sin and darkness and death, to set you free, to bring you God’s life and power, to help you achieve your fullest potential as my child.” (Fr Anthony Coniaris)
Don’t ever allow your name to be identified only with your failings, with your shortcomings, with your brokenness, with any darkness. Christmas offers us new hope! A Savior has come who will save His people from their sins, from all that separates them from their Creator. A Savior who offers to give each one of us a new name. A Savior who will write our new name in the eternal book of life.
Let us open up our hearts this Christmas day, and invite Jesus to be born anew therein!
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