Saturday, December 15, 2018

What's in a name: Sermon for the Community Carol Service 2018

What’s in a name?

In 2017, the Office of National Statistics recorded the name of every baby registered that year. Seasonal names in 2017 saw 166 babies called ‘Angel’, four were named ‘Gift’, 37 named ‘Star’ and 5 called ‘Merry’.  There were more than 200 girls called Holly who were born in December alone. Nearly 1000 boys were named Gabriel, 400 were called Nicholas, and 120 called ‘Noel’.   Sadly, I couldn’t find proof that anyone had named their child Santa.

Deciding on the name for a baby can be a hard choice, especially if the meaning of the name comes into the decision making process.  Our new Grandson, born this year, was called Lucas – which comes from the Latin word for Light….because he is of course the Light of our Lives at the moment (or so my wife tells me).  I’ve hesitated to point out that the word Lucifer has the same Latin root… because Satan was once an angel of light, according to the myths…just in case my grandson grows up to be a little devil!

In some cultures, you’ll hear names that don’t need any researching to find out what’s behind them, girls called Grace, or Chastity or Patience - qualities that may, or may not come to be realised as the child grows.  The stained glass windows in our choir stalls have three lovely ladies in them, called Faith, Hope and Charity.

Names are important, and the baby whose birth we celebrate every Christmas had a whole heap of them.

The prophet Isaiah, foretelling his birth, called him Wonderful Counsellor, Powerful God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  In other prophecies, he was called ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God with us’.

The Wise Men from the East came looking for the ‘King of the Jews’.   After the visit of the angels, the Shepherds set off to find the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord.

Mary and Joseph though had some very specific instructions from Angels about the baby’s name. Mary’s instructions came in person, Joseph’s in a dream. The child will be called Jesus, because, as Joseph was told, he was going to save people from their sins.

A few years ago, I was accosted in the churchyard by a dear lady of somewhat dubious mental health.  She harangued me for quite a while about the fact that we don’t, in fact, call Jesus by his proper name.  Actually, she was right.  The name he was given was in fact ‘Yeshua’ – which is anglicised to Joshua.  Yeshua means’ God saves’ – and it is what Jesus would have heard when his mother called him into the house for his tea.  Over time, through translations from Aramaic into Greek then into English, the consonants and vowels got changed – leaving us with the modern rendering of his name: Jesus.

Which makes Jesus an extraordinary name for a child to be given, because there was an expectation that he would live up to the name he was given and go on to genuinely save people from their sins.

There’s no mention in the bible of Jesus having a surname, but that isn’t hugely surprising. At the time Jesus lived, an individual would be known by their given name, and then perhaps the place they were from. Jesus of Nazereth would be good example. Perhaps their occupation - like Matthew the Tax Collector; or maybe who their father was, like James son of Zebedee.  What is certain is that Jesus’ surname wasn’t ‘Christ’.  No-one approaching him in the street would have said ‘Good morning, Mr Christ’.  That wasn’t his surname – but rather it is a Title…a word which means ‘saviour’.  So, if you like, you can call Jesus Christ ‘Yeshua Saviour’.  Certainly the old lady in the churchyard would be much happier if you did!

Titles can be useful things.  We have a number of them with us tonight, in fact.  We’ve got the Mayor, our Member of Parliament, and one or two Presidents – past and present - of the Rotary Club.  We have a Director of Music, and at least two church people with the title of ‘Reader’. 

I also have a title – that of Canon…which doesn’t mean that I have a tendency to go bang!  If you’re interested, it’s basically an honorary title, conferred by the Bishop.  It means that, apparently, I can be trusted to teach the faith with authority.  It comes from a Latin word meaning ‘rule’ or ‘measure’ – and it’s a word we use to describe an authorised body of work…like the canon of Shakespeare, or the canon of Scripture.

Titles give us a clue about what function someone carries out, don’t they?  They help us to understand who we are talking to, or talking about.  Sometimes, titles can be a burden to us.  I can think of at least one Prime Minister who is finding her title rather burdensome at the moment!

Other titles can be rather liberating and fun.  Ken Dodd, of blessed memory, sometimes referred to himself as the ‘Chief Tickler of Britain’.  And then there are the plan daft titles which are creeping into the world of work.  Last week, for example, I heard of someone called the ‘Chief Wizard of Light Bulb Moments’.  Turns out he was a Marketing Director.  And I rather like the title of ‘Grand Master of Underlings’…which turns out to be a Deputy Manager! 

There is one title, however, that we can all aspire to because of Yeshua Saviour – Jesus Christ.  The whole point of Jesus living among us was to show us what God is like.  Jesus wanted us to see God differently than how he has been viewed in the past.  Jesus showed us that God wasn’t a distant deity, perched on a mountain-top or a cloud, viewing the world from a distance.  Instead, Jesus gave God a new title – the title of Father…or, actually, the title ‘Abba’ – which means ‘Daddy’.  Jesus, born as a child himself, invites us to view God as a parental figure…the Daddy, or the Mummy, who cares about their children.  And so, we are offered a new title – the title of Child of God.

Of all the titles I’ve been given – Rector, Reverend, Canon…the one which matters most to me is the simplest of all, the one modelled by the baby in the manger…child of God.

I am Tom, child of God.

And Peter, our Mayor, is Peter, child of God.

And Alan, our MP, is Alan, child of God.

And everyone here…we are all children of God.

That title is one which every member of the human race can claim.  We are all God’s children.  The only choice we have to make is whether we choose to be part of the family of God as well. 


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