“Suppose that one day you were reading a story in which an elderly woman is talking to her pregnant granddaughter. “Now listen, my dear,” the old woman says, “I would ask that you name this child after your grandfather and so give him the name Nelson.” Suppose the young woman agrees. “OK, Grandma, his name will be Nelson.” But what would you think if the narrator of the story then wrote, “And so this fulfilled a prediction once made by the pregnant woman’s father that her firstborn would be named ‘Wallace.'”
“Well, which is it: Nelson or Wallace? And if it ends up being Nelson, then what does Wallace have to do with anything? So also in Matthew 1: the angel says to name the baby Jesus, and Matthew turns right around and says, “That’s right: he’s little baby Immanuel.” And no sooner does Matthew write that and we are told that when the baby was born, Joseph did as he was told and named the little fellow “Jesus.”
“Jesus. Immanuel. Jesus.
“What’s going on here? How does “Jesus” relate to “Immanuel”? They are, after all, significantly different names. Sometimes when you are somewhat acquainted with one person named Marian and another named Marianne, you might now and then mix up the two names on account of their being so similar. But Jesus and Immanuel? Not even close.”1
But what’s in a name, right? Isn’t a rose blah blah blah. But I would venture that there is something in this name of Jesus that gets people riled up, right? In today’s world that Name isn’t welcome in many places. Pastors are repeatedly told (by other pastors, usually) not to mention Jesus at the Memorial Day services or, God forbid, at the blessing of a town Christmas Tree. I routinely and purposely mention Jesus at all of these events, and for some reason I keep getting invited back. Our own Presiding Bishop seems to have trouble mentioning Jesus in her seasonal addresses, which has caused no little controversy in the Church, which I see as a good thing – at least people want her to mention Jesus by name. I seem to recall something happening locally because of the mentioning of Jesus in song, but we’ll skip that today.
The point is that the Name of Jesus has power, the power to make us both horribly uncomfortable and profoundly comfortable. My friend Father Steve Rice, rector of St. Timothy’s Church in Winston-Salem, wrote about the power of Jesus’ Name this week. He wrote that knows that (quote) “those who sit near me at the sung mass each week get tickled every time I remove my biretta when the Holy Name (Jesus!) is spoken. (I do the same, especially at Compline; Father Rice goes on to say that ) It looks tedious and from the one who is doing it, it can be. But the name is important. I know that at the altar and elsewhere, bowing your head at the name of Jesus can seem like we’re all suffering from narcolepsy, but the name is important.”2
The fact is, that January 1st is, in the Church, the Feast of the Holy Name, an entire day set apart just to “celebrate the name of Jesus, which was given to be (as the Bible tells us) the sign of our salvation. We don’t put our hope in the birth of an anonymous “holy one.” We don’t put our hope in an idea. We don’t put our hope in the movement of a people. We put our hope in the Incarnation of the Word, who was given the name Jesus to a the sign of our salvation. The sign is given to us so that ‘at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess’”3 that the Lord has visited us, and that we beheld the glory of His Name.
So what’s with the two names, Immanuel and Jesus? Well, the two appear to be inseparable, Jesus is Immanuel and Immanuel is Jesus. The name Jesus means God saves or God is salvation; the name Immanuel means God with us. So when we say the name of Jesus we are saying that the God who saves is also the God who is with us. And so my prayer this Christmas is that Christ Church will never be ashamed of that holy, holy Name, and that the name of Jesus will on the lips of all peoples, the hope and salvation of all.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.