Friday, December 30, 2016

What Is in a Name? Reflections on Luke 2.15-22 (The Naming of Jesus, 1 January 2017)

What Is in a Name?
Reflections on Luke 2.15-22

The Naming of Jesus
1 January 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            2.15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

            21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

            22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord . . . .

         What is in a name?  From time to time an advertisement will pop up on my Facebook page from ‘’, a genealogical website that my father used to do research on our family history.  Often the headline is something along the lines of ‘Find out what your name means’. 

         Because of my father’s research I know that there is some controversy about the origin of my surname.  On the one side of the argument is that ‘Leggett’ means someone who held some sort of judicial position in early medieval England.  On the other side of the argument is that ‘Leggett’ is the name given to an instrument used in thatching roofs.  From my father’s research I’m pretty clear on which side of the argument I fall.  My father’s kin in Kent were land-owning knights who exercised certain judicial functions among their neighbours.

         My father’s interest in the family was not some romantic search to link us to some wealthy family and thus make some sort of claim on an estate.  He was interested in the stories themselves.  Our family, like most families, has a complicated web of successes and failures, secrets and conflicts.  In exploring the past my father was, in very real sense, trying to understand how we, as a family, came to be who we are.

         For me my father’s search for our family’s story gives me not only a sense of who I am as a descendant of Welsh, Anglo-Saxon and Norman ancestors, it gives me a sense of obligation.  My obligation is to work towards a future in which our name is remembered as a blessing, a phrase my Jewish friends use when they speak of someone who has died:  May her name be remembered as a blessing.

         Today we celebrate the naming of Jesus, the Jewish ritual in which he is given the name Yehoshuah which means the Lord saves.  It is a name that connects him to the history of God’s covenant with Israel and that promises a future in which that covenant will be expanded to include all humanity.  It reminds us that the Holy One of Israel, whose true name describes what God has done, is doing and will do, is at work in this child in ways which we cannot imagine.  With this name Yehoshua becomes part of a story reaching back to creation and assumes an obligation to write a new chapter in that story.

         But more importantly, it is a day for us to remember that we have been baptized into the name of Jesus.  Just as we celebrate the incarnation of the Word of God into our time and space, we celebrate our incarnation as bearers of the Word into all the times and spaces our lives inhabit.  We have become participants in the story begun in creation and renewed in Yehoshua.  In our baptism we take on the obligation to write our own chapters in this story, a story that theologians call ‘salvation history’.

         Salvation, God’s initiative to restore right relationships between God and humanity, between human beings and creation, between ourselves and our sisters and brothers, is an already but not yet.  In Yehoshua, the Lord saves us and all humanity.  But in the ministry entrusted to us the Lord continues to save until that day when all is fulfilled.  Each year we celebrate the incarnation in order to remember that we who bear the name are the continuing incarnation.  One of the most ancient prayers still offered at this time of the year puts it well:

Almighty God,
you wonderfully created
and yet more wonderfully restored our human nature.
May we share the divine life of your Son Jesus Christ,
who humbled himself to share our humanity,
and now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

         What is in a name?  In our name we find both our past and our future.  In our name we find identity and obligation.  Joseph and Mary knew this when they gave their first-born son the name Yehoshua.  In this name you and I know who we are meant to be and what we are meant to do.  Not a bad way to begin the new year, I think, with the only resolution worth making:  Becoming who we truly are, the living embodiment of the Lord who saves.


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