What’s in a name? Everything

  • December 20, 2011

Mary, Mother of God (Year B) Jan. 1 (Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

What is in a name? For modern people a name reflects personal preference and is often modelled on popular culture or family traditions. The given name has to have appeal or pizzazz.

But for the ancient Hebrews, a name meant everything. Ideally the name of a person revealed their nature and their role in the world, especially with regard to God’s designs for the people of Israel. Many of the important individuals in the Old Testament receive new names after having passed an important spiritual milestone in their journey. The beautiful blessing of Aaron reveals the nature of God in a similar way. It is by means of this blessing the people “place the name of God” upon them. The blessing reveals the compassion and graciousness of God as well as God’s eagerness to shine the light of the divine face upon us. It is a very personal blessing, one that brings peace. It is something we need to remember, especially when there are so many negative images of God floating around. This is who God is; this is what God is about. When we forget that and project our own darkness and fear on our understanding of God we widen the gulf between the human and the divine. The blessing is an excellent way to begin
the New Year and it would be helpful to hold it in our heart and mind. And we do not have to be Aaron or one of his sons to give this same blessing to others.

God entered the human experience completely by means of the incarnation. Jesus experienced human birth and growth and entered the covenant community of Israel in the traditional manner. This enabled Him to grant us the gift of the Spirit of Christ that opens our minds and hearts and sets us free of the fears and the negative patterns that bind us. By becoming consciously aware of God we can cry “Abba!” in recognition of both our origin and our ultimate destiny. This gift of new awareness and renewed life is meant for this life — we do not have to wait until we die. God invites us to share in the divine life. But it is not magic and it must be received and welcomed into the human mind and heart. Our lives would be very different if we understood what God is offering us.

Understanding is something that is not instantaneous but unfolds gradually. The shepherds do not understand the divine plan that is unfolding around them but are filled with wonder and awe at both the appearance of the angels and the child they see before them. Their joy is expressed in the way that they glorify and praise God — something that we do not do as often or with as much fervour as we ought.

At this point Mary and Joseph are growing in their understanding of the role and purpose of Jesus. The many things that have been seen and experienced and the words that have been spoken are treasured in Mary’s heart. She clearly recognizes their precious and important nature and she does not allow them to slip away. But she must ponder and reflect on them patiently — the fuller meaning will only be revealed in time. This is a quality that we would do well to develop — the ability to sit patiently and attentively with our experience and our faith rather than demanding immediate answers or solutions.

Jesus is clearly a child of the covenant for He is circumcised and named on the eighth day according to the Law of Moses. The name given to Jesus is not chosen by Mary or Joseph. The angel gave very clear instructions that He was to be named Jesus — Yeshua — and His name says it all for it means “God saves.” Now Jesus was a common name in the first century, but here the name is directed from above and will disclose the nature of God as well as the nature, mission and role of Jesus. His name was one of the things treasured and pondered in Mary’s heart and as He grew to manhood she would see it fulfilled in His teachings and His ministry. Jesus entered human history to extend God’s compassion and Spirit to yearning human hearts.