Names have meaning.
I can remember as a child one of the most popular comic strips was
Dennis the Menace. People used that
phrase often around me, just to tease or joke around. Thankfully, there were many children named
Dennis at that time, and I was not the only one with that moniker. We all endured it together.
Last names very often have roots in what occupation of the
breadwinner was. Since for a long time
in history the occupation passed from father to son for generations, the
surname stuck and did not need a change.
Both Father Kawalec’s and my ancestors worked with metal. In Polish, Kawalec means blacksmith, and
Smith comes from the German origin, Schmitz, which is also a metal worker, and
most probably a blacksmith.
Names can evoke fond memories, fear, joy, virtually any
emotion we can think of. Even the
writers of Sacred Scripture have interesting ways of naming people in their
roles, and sometimes people’s names are changed during their lifetimes in the
Scriptures. There is purpose and
intrigue in naming. Names have power.
Today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah is one of the most
quoted in the history of Christendom.
“…the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him
Emmanuel.” While Isaiah was prophesying
to King Ahaz encouraging him to accept an earthly sign regarding a political
decision, and the virgin to conceive was not to conceive supernaturally, and
Emmanuel was intended to be God with Ahaz in battle, the prophecy took on the
most obvious and inspired prophetic naming of the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with
us, as the new Christian Community looked at the prophets of old.
Jesus, Himself, had taken Isaiah’s prophecies, and used
them as pointing to Himself, and this became an obvious progression.
Emmanuel is the first of three names for
our Savior we find in today’s Scriptures.
What a powerful name. God with
us! What Isaiah has prophesied for us is
ultimately something that without faith is incomprehensible. History is not a meaningless chain of
events. Isaiah names a chain of events
and in this case, it is God’s intervention in human history that will change
not only human history on earth but eternal life for humans. Emmanuel on earth will make it possible for
humanity to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
The second name that appears in today’s
Scriptures comes to us through Saint Matthew’s Gospel and that is the name
Jesus. Jesus is a name with meaning, and
it is the name that God the Father chose for His Son.
Your parents gave some thought to picking
your name and if you have children, you did the same. For various reasons you included or excluded
various names. I don’t know that my
parent chose Dennis because it was popular or because it means fine wine
lover. I tend to believe it was the
former. And, I don’t know if Father
Kawalec’s parents chose Zachary as his first name because it means God remembers. But I do know that God the Father chose
Jesus’ name because it means God Saves.
It is not one of Joseph’s family names.
It is a name that belongs to the Creator who is sending His Son to be
the fulfillment of His promise and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, to be
Emmanuel, Jesus. As Saint Matthew’s
Gospel says, “It brings to an end the genealogy of ‘Jesus Christ, son of David,
Son of Abraham.’”
God reveals this name to Mary and Joseph
before Jesus is born. And unlike the
prophets before Him, Jesus will not announce God’s plan of saving His people,
Jesus will fulfill that plan in a manner as found prophesied in Isaiah’s
Suffering Servant discourse. Of all the
things and people on earth, none have previously been named by God before they
were placed on earth. God left the
naming rights of the first things and people to Adam and Eve. Even Abram was named before God changed his
name to Abraham and Simon was named before Jesus changed his name to
Peter. John the Baptist was not named
John until eight days after his birth, although there was a change of plan from
what his relatives thought his name would be until Zachariah wrote what John’s
name would be. But Jesus, Jesus’ name
came from the Father through the angel before He was conceived by the Blessed
Virgin Mary. The name above all names is
revealed to Joseph and he welcomes both God Saves and the virgin who conceives
Him by the Holy Spirit.
Christmas is so close we can touch
it. The Nativity, the birth of Jesus,
gives us Emmanuel, God with us. These
two names highlighted in the Scriptures are essential to who we are as a parish
by our very name. So is the third. Lord!
Jesus and Emmanuel are names that only God could have generated. Humans could not have established God with us
or God Saves. But Lord is a name that
only we can give. It comes from the
Hebrew Adonai used frequently in the Old Testament and is a grammatical
alteration of the word adoni (add own ee) which
referred to slave owners and heads of households or anyone who had authority
over other persons. But only God was
called Adonai. Adoni always received
authority from somewhere – their position in society, a higher authority, or a
cultural tradition. Adonai is God and
does not receive authority. He is the
ultimate source of all order, power and greatness. He is, by His very nature, Adonai – Lord.
When we call Jesus “Lord”, we are
acknowledging that He is much more than just one of history’s great religious
leaders. We are making a decision that
this name is above all other names and we choose to be His followers, to be
Now we have named Him! Born of a Virgin, Jesus is Lord. Nativity of the Lord Jesus!
We have spent our Advent with the
prophets, brightening our Advent Wreath, evangelizing visitors to our Bethlehem
Cave and Museum, and now naming Him who is the one we celebrate.
The angel has spoken to Mary and Joseph
with one more message. Do not be
afraid. Jesus has many other names that
we can turn to as gifts when we have needs.
You can find them all through the Scriptures. He is The Good Shepherd, The Prince of Peace,
The Bread of Life, The Lamb of God, The Light of the World, The Word, The Life,
The Truth, The Way, the True Vine, and many more. One of these may just be the name that
relieves any fear you might be fighting this Christmas.
As you spend these last few days of
Advent preparing for Emmanuel’s birth, choose one name for God’s Son that will
be the focus of your prayers until you wake to the choirs of angels singing
Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.