What is in a name?
A Homily for Christmas I
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
December 31, 2017
Text: Matthew: 1:18-25
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
As the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season winds down, and Christmas finally passes us by, we often take a deep breath of relief, finally a little time for peace and quiet. Yet, Christmas for the traditional Christian, the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, and us, the Anglicans has only just begun. For the traditional Christian, it is a season of doing as Mary did, and treasuring all of these things that we learn in our hearts, minds, and souls, allowing the truth and joy of the incarnation to shape our own lives.
This Sunday we come to a third account of Christ's birth. It is the relatively short account found in St. Matthew's Gospel, the account that reminds us that God is with us. That God descended and dwelt among us.
Last week on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we read two other accounts. First. St. Luke's account which makes it clear to us that Jesus was fully man, that he shared in our humanity in every way possible. Then on Christmas Day, St. John's beautiful but intensely theological Gospel reminded us that Jesus was fully divine. That Christ not only shared in the nature of God, but was God himself, the second person of the trinity.
Finally, today, we are reading St. Matthew's account. Compared to St. Luke's two long chapters devoted to the Birth, this account is short, and straight to the point. The saint wants us to be without a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ who has come to save us from our sins. He does not beat around the bush but points directly to Christ and says: "he shall save his people form their sins."
He does not say "he'll save them from Roman oppression," "he'll save them from their frustrating boss," or "he'll save them from some worldly disappointment," for although God does at times deliver us from these temporal frustrations, it is in our deliverance from Sins, that Matthew is keenly interested in, and which Christ came to do. He came to make us new men and women. To give us new hearts and minds that worship Him.
The Angel's proclamation to Joseph is of special interest to us. In this proclamation, we are given two names for Christ - Jesus, that is the savior, and Immanuel, that is God is with us. This reminds us of the importance of a name. For names have meaning and significance.
Growing up, I did not like my name, my first name is too short and it always sounds like people are mad at me and my middle name is strange and foreign. As I've grown older, and I hope at least a little wiser and more mature, I've come to love my name.
My first name, chosen, simply because my parents liked it, is a nice Irish name which was briefly popular around the time of my birth, it is the Celtic version of the name John, meaning a gift from God.
My middle name, on the other hand is special, not chosen because someone fancied it, but because it was the name of my mother's grandfather, my great-grandfather. A man who lived next to my grandparents, who helped to raise my mother and her siblings when their parents had to work. This name connects me with my mother's family while my last name connects me with my father's family. Both family's having differed but deep, rich New England heritages dating back many years, hundreds of years even.
There is something in my name that I can be proud of. We each have a relationship with our names. Perhaps we are proud to be Dunns, or Smiths, or Jones, or perhaps we hate our names. Either way, they are a part of who we are. When a man and woman marry, it is customary for the wife to give up her name so that she can share names with her husband. This isn't an archaic tradition representative of a now dead patriarchy, but rather a reminder that in marriage two become one. The name reminds us of this biblical truth.
Names hold significance, so much so, that some studies have suggested that that old saying "she even behaves like her name," has some merit to it. So, we must pause a moment and think about the names of the Christ that we are told today - Jesus and Immanuel.
The name Jesus as we translate it, from Latin, would have been commonly understood by the Hebrews as Joshua. Not a particularly exciting or unique name, but a name they would have simply associated with an individual. To his contemporaries, he may as well have been named Chris or James or Joe. It was a common enough name.
But it is the meaning that is behind the name that is important, for the mission of Christ is to save. While Christ takes many rolls in our life - savior, king, teacher, and friend, his first mission on earth was always salivation, always saving sinners from their own self destruction.
For until, he has saved us from the sin that rules our hearts he cannot be our ruler, our teacher, or our friend. So first he saves, he sets us aside, so that we may his.
St. Matthew does not want there to be any confusion about what the Christ will save us from, and so he reiterates, it is from our sin that Christ's saves us. He may remove from us other evils, but the root of these evils is always the darkness of sin.
For sin is just like a weed, entrenched deep in our hearts, we may see it bloom in selfishness, or lust, or gluttony, or numerous other manifestations, but if we do not remove it completely, do not pull the roots out, it'll grow again perhaps as a different manifestation but flowering again, and again. Christ works in us to remove the very roots that entrench themselves deep within our hearts.
Once the roots of sin are cast out it becomes easier to throw our cares upon the Lord, to trust in Him completely, and to let him be the Lord and ruler of our life. Of course, sometimes anxiety, depression, frustrations of all kinds can still haunt us, but when we know that the Lord is the sovereign ruler of our life, even these seem more bearable, but it is only when sin is rooted out that we can learn to trust that the Lord is good, and that He is the king and savior of our hearts, that His love runs deeper than any trouble we may face.
We know that Christ can save us from these troubles, even if the struggle is real. It is Christ and Christ alone that saves us from our vices.
Perhaps, this year you are sitting down thinking of resolutions, ways in which you want to improve yourself. Perhaps some will work better that others. Perhaps you'll read more in the new year, or learn to bake bread, or start running every day, or perhaps you'll struggle with your desire for self-improvement and fail.
I will be so bold as to suggest - that in this new year, your resolution might be to pray and read the scriptures more that your walk with God would be deeper. That Christ, through the Holy Spirit would become stronger in you. In this resolution, a deeper walk with the Lord is given. A deeper and more bold hope is given and in that we live a more joyful, peaceful life. For when we have life in Christ it is a life in which we flee from sin and to the Lord.
Now, it is His people that he saves from sin. For each Christian person belongs to God in Christ. He calls us by name, and our hearts hear is voice and go running to Him. For He is the good shepherd.
We hear illusions to this throughout scripture, that those who know Christ know his voice. We are reminded time and again that we belong to Him. What a great promise that is? Not only has he come to save, has he freed us from the impossible burden of sin, but that we belong to Him. That we are possessed by the king of kings, and lord of lords, that we are no longer slaves to sins that cause our death, but that we are friends and children of God.
This friendship and son and daughter ship is the greatest gifts of the Gospel. For we have assurance and joy in knowing that He knows us and that when we wander, when we fall back into sin, the shepherd of our souls is there, calling out for us, seeking us in the brambles of life, and freeing us again, and setting us back on the straight and narrow.
The Angel tells Joseph a second thing: that they shall call him Immanuel, God is with us. It is in Christ's virgin birth that we are reminded of the mystery, the miracle and the holiness of his birth.
For we cannot completely comprehend what happened that Christmas two thousand years ago, we do not fully grasp that God became man, and dwelt among us, and yet we know this to be true.
It is the greatest miracle and greatest scandal ever to have occurred. God came into the world, walked among us, lived a fully human life, and then died the death which we deserve.
Yet, this was only possible if his holiness descended among us, it was in this enduing by the Holy Spirit that Mary gave birth to the Christ child. Not of her Holiness as some have erroneously taught, but only by the grace of God.
This news, this event, this name Immanuel reveals to us the deeper mission of Christ. For in God's descent among men, he became fully man and retained his divinity. In Jesus was the union of God and man. God is no longer some distant force. He is not, as some have claimed a sky fairy, or a clock maker far off watching his little experiment play out. No God, has taken an active interest in humanity, and in His dwelling among us has made us his children.
It is in Christ that we have a tangible understanding of God, we can see him, and those who walked among him in His day could touch Him, could experience God, and in their record, we too can experience him.
in the sacrament that he ordained, Holy Communion we can mystically experience Him by the working of the Holy Spirit. In a way, we do no fully comprehend Christ is present with us in the moment that we partake of his bread and drink of his wine. For in those moments we tangibly experience His grace, his sacrifice for us.
Finally, in the last week we have talked about Christ's humanity, and his divinity, and the theology found in his birth. We know that if Christ had not been fully man, he could not have lived the perfect life that we fail to live. He could not have lived a life for us that our sin makes impossible. He could not have been for us a perfect example. So, his humanity was of the utmost importance.
Likewise, if he was not fully divine he could not have died for us and brought us into a relationship with God. He could not have given us the ability to be made children of God. He could not be for us the shepherd of our souls.
Jesus Christ, Immanuel, fully God and fully man dwelt among us, that he might bridge the impossible gap between God and man, that we might walk with the Lord and know Him to be our Father. That we might be able to pray in Him, rejoice in Him, and sing praises to Him.
So much is found in a name, there is a depth and breadth to names that remind us of who someone is. The name of Christ reminds us of who he is, and how he has set us free to walk with Him and to know Him well. The name of Christ tells us who we call out to when we sin, and who we trust in.
As Christmastide continues through the next week, let our hearts and minds rejoice with the good news of Christ coming into the world. Let us give thanks, let us contemplate what it means to dwell in him and as the new year comes in tomorrow morning, let us by the grace of God resolve to follow Him more deeply in the year to come.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.