Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the Wonderful Counselor,
the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel. Amen
This time of year,
among all the other things that it is,
is a season of names.
Everywhere we turn there are names,
at the office drawing for the secret Santa gift exchange
and packages under the trees,
there are the names on or associated with
some of our favorite holiday recipes and traditions,
names come up as we decorate the tree
and tell the family stories.
Names arise in our memories
as those who are no long with us
linger close at this time of year
Closely associated with names are stories
and this is definitely a season of stories,
stories filled with names,
now names can be stories in themselves,
sometimes all that’s necessary to invoke a story
is to say a certain name
because our names represent who we are,
and who we are is revealed by the story of our lives.
Behind every name
is a collection of stories,
so it’s little wonder
that when telling the greatest story
Luke uses a lot of names,
each mention adding layers of meaning
to a seemingly simple story
about a baby born in a manger.
Most of the time when we read the Christmas story
the names are easy to pass over
when we don’t know the stories behind names
they are easily dismissed,
they are something we read through to get to the good part,
the baby in the manger, the angelic chorus and the believing shepherds,
but whether we pay attention to them or not
names drive the action of the Christmas story,
Emperor Augustus starts things off,
the one with the most power in the Roman Empire,
dictating the lives of those with the least power,
Augustus calls for a registration,
a census, a cataloguing of people by name,
making it easier for the empire to tax its conquered subjects
and conscript them into the military.
Families must return to their hometowns to be counted
and so that is what Joseph does along with his pregnant fiancée.
Joseph we’re told
is a member of the house of King David,
a huge figure in the story of Israel,
David is the King
to whom God promised to always raise up ancestors
as leaders for Israel.
Now in the story of the people of Israel
it’s been awhile since they’ve had a great leader,
at the moment Israel is under the control of the Roman Empire
this after being under the control of the Babylonians
and then the Persians,
independent rule in the promised land
is such a distant memory
it almost feels like a fairy tale,
but unlike fairy tales
this is a promise made by God,
and God keeps the promises God makes.
so at the mention of Joseph and his family ties,
our ears perk up,
could God be about to make good on the promise of old?
This suspicion is heightened,
when Luke tells us that Joseph takes Mary to Bethlehem
where she has their firstborn child.
Bethlehem, is King David’s hometown
and the prophesies foretelling the messiah,
the anointed one who will save Israel,
say that the Messiah will come out of Bethlehem.
We heard one of the prophetic announcements
in our first reading from Isaiah,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
and there is great joy
at an infant born
through whom God will work out the promise of perpetual peace
with justice and righteousness
and here again names appear.
In this case the names or titles are descriptive
of how this sign of hope will accomplish God’s promised future
and what that future will look like,
it will be a future of peace,
brought about through the wisdom of God,
and in the wisdom of God,
the one to bring that about,
is a baby.
The enfleshed wisdom of God
It’s quite a contrast,
the royal names and accompanying expectations
even the angelic announcements back in Luke to the shepherds
of “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
all hung on a newborn human,
the weakest of creatures
unable to thrive without the care of others.
These are big names for a little baby,
seemingly unrealistic expectations
for one born without even power according to humans,
wealth and privilege.
And yet, the baby in the manger
will live up to the names given him,
but he will do so in ways that defy human expectations,
he will be the Prince of Peace,
Emmanuel- God with us
in the same way he started life,
from a place of human weakness,
rather than human strength,
because that’s how God chooses to work in the world,
through the weak and the unexpected,
through the underrated and overlooked,
All of us carry several names or titles,
some represent the collective stories of our lives,
some are more descriptive or name what people expect from us,
some are seemingly unrealistic
and others we maybe don’t care for so much,
and these names may change over time
as more stories are added to our collection
but there is one name we have been given
that will never change,
we have been named Child of God.
God identifies us as God’s own beloved,
and nothing we say or do,
no mistakes we make
will change that,
God has named us
and that makes us part of God’s story,
the story where weakness is wisdom
and compassion is salvific,
the story where nothing can separate us from the love of God,
it’s a story with many names
each with their own stories,
all connecting back to the greatest story,
of a baby born in a manger long ago. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.