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Saint John Lutheran Church Emporia  (Guest Pastor Dennis Rhoads)

First Sunday in Christmas

Text: Isaiah 61:10-62-3

Title: What is in a Name? 

This morning before I share with you God’s Word and its meaning for us today, I want to tell you a story that I read earlier in the week.  There was a little child who was, as many children are afraid of the dark, for in the dark the monsters come out of the closet or under the bed.  His mother asked him, as she was cleaning up the kitchen after supper to go out on the back porch to get the broom she needed to clean up.  The light bulb was burned out, so it was dark on the back porch and the little boy really did not want to go out, for who knows what monster might be waiting for him.  His mother tries to reassure him told him, “It is alright to get the broom in the dark because Jesus is not just in our home, but outside too.  The little boy thought about it and since he trusted his mother, he went to the back door and opening it just a little called out, “Jesus can you please give me the broom.

I told you this little story because on this last Sunday of the year, I wonder how many of us, even while hoping for all the good things of life next year, fear at least a little bit, the unknown, those what I will call monsters of life, the things that might harm or cause us distress in the New Year. 

We know what life on this earth can bring us, for I doubt there is not one of us that have not experienced at least some heartbreak this year. So what I want to do this morning is talk to you about who you really are, so you can be prepared for whatever the New Year brings, all 365 days of it. 

I want to start with verse two of chapter 62 of our Old Testament reading for today. It is where we hear God speaking through the prophet Isaiah to the nation of Israel who were in captivity some wonderful news, 2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.”

I picked that verse because the people of Isreal were in desperate need of some good news.  They needed to hear from God, “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.”  A name is a marvelous thing, for it identifies who the person, or in this case, who a nation is. 

For all of history, not only does a person’s name describe who they are but also determines who they are. One’s name and one’s self are inseparable.  They are your identity.  Like all of you, my surname, Rhoads, the name I was born into, is much more than just a name.  It brought family identity and tradition and relationship.  Sometimes, depending on one’s age, or circumstances, one’s surname might be viewed with pride, embarrassment, or resentment.  It is our identity.

Like all of you, I also have a given name, Dennis.  I am not just a Rhoads, just as each one of you are not just whatever your surname is.  Each one of us in our given name is unique within our family.  So, I, as each of you are, am both names together.  It is not just a username or a password; my name, both surname and given name, as yours is, is me, inseparable from me.

A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing. It is indeed a life-changing, revolutionary step to change one’s name.  I do not think us men appreciate the commitment it takes for a woman to set aside her surname which is her identity, to take on our surname when they marry.  It is as if her previous identity did not matter, which of course it does. 

Guys, what would it be like, if we had to take on our wife’s name when we married?  What would happen to our old identity?

What would our new identity mean?  What life changes would it make to our lives?  While men taking on their wife’s name is fairly uncommon even today, men have throughout history, at least in biblical history, have had their surnames changed sometimes willingly other times not so willingly.

I can’t even imagine the indignity and shame it must have been for the kings of Judah when the superpowers of Egypt and Babylon renamed the kings whose kingdom they had taken over.  Eliakim (God sets up) became Jehoiakim (established by God); Mattaniah (gift or hope of God) became Zedekiah (justice of the Lord) just to name a couple name changes.  Those name changes were not meant to honor but degrade the kings. 

On the other hand, when God redeemed Israel from slavery and exile, from being ridiculed, outcast, alien, and hopeless, one of the signs of joy and salvation that he gives them are new names.  Gone are the old names, names like Forsaken and Desolate.  Israel’s new name is not just a name for the futue, but a name with a future, indeed a name with a present, not a name forced on Isreal, not a name of ridicule, but a name given in love and promise as we read in Isaiah 62:4, ”You shall no more be named Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married to me.”  Those names are meant to be heard; Israel’s joy and God’s love are to be seen by all nations. 

Yes indeed, a name is a marvelous, mysterious thing in the hands of the Lord.  Abram (father) became Abraham (father of a great multitude) Sari (my princess) became Sarah (princess of the multitude) Jacob (holder of the heel) to Isreal (one who prevails) Simon (one who obeys) to Peter (rock) (Saul (asked for) became Paul (little). While we don’t know if Joseph was planning on naming Mary’s baby a different name, he was told to give Mary’s baby the name Jesus (deliverer)

He is the Messiah of which Simeon speaks in our Gospel reading for this morning, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

The one he spoke of is the greatest of gifts; the name that is above all names, the name at which all knees will bow, the name given to all people by which we must be saved.  He who gave his life for us gives us a new name, his name. He invites us to be baptized into his name, so we can share in his death and resurrection.  In addition, in his name, we live our lives in a sure hope and joy we could never find on our own. 

Simeon’s words spoken so long ago are our words, as we leave the table of the Lord, for we too have beheld him in the bread and wine of His Supper.  He is our salvation that has been prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to all people.  Jesus in the flesh with us, a light to drive out the darkness of our lives, overcoming the monsters we fear.  This is his promise to you in your baptism for you each have a new name, “Sons and daughters of Christ.”

I want to close with another promise of God.  Revelation 3:5 “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot their name out of the book of life. I will confess their name before my Father and before his angels.”  That my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is God’s promise for not just next year but the rest of your life.  You are his and nothing will ever separate you from him. Amen 

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