What’s in A Name?
December 8, 2021
21Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus,[b] because he will save his people from their sins.” . . .23 “A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
(Contemporary English Version, Matthew 1: 21, 23)
Yesterday at our Staff Christmas luncheon we started talking about names. As we talked about the meaning and origin of our names, I discovered that each of us had a story behind our names. Some of us were even able to trace our ancestors all the way back to before the birth of Jesus!
Do you know what your name(s) mean? I did a quick Internet search and discovered that Angela comes from the Greek word for angel and means “God’s Messenger”. My last name Elliott means “The Lord’s side”. These names are very meaningful to me and describe the kind of person Jesus is inviting me to be.
In the Old Testament, Jewish parents named their children for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the name was a confession of faith such as Uzziah which means “Yahweh is my strength”. (2 Chronicles 26). Or the name could be a statement about God like the name Joshua which means “Yahweh is salvation”. Hagar named her son “Ishmael” meaning “God hears” (Genesis 16:13)
Names are changed in the Old Testament as well. Sometimes it is God who changes a person’s name to reflect a covenantal promise or a change in circumstances. God does this in Genesis 17: 4-5 when he changes Abram’s name to Abraham “I have made you a father of many nations.” Naomi changes her own name saying in Ruth 1:21 to call her Mara “because God has turned against me and made my life so hard.”
There is great significance for the Old Testament Jews in the names people were called. This includes all the names given to Jesus.
In this Advent season we’ve been looking at four of those names from Isaiah 9:6, where Jesus is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. All these names say something not only about the character of Jesus but also about his relationship with us. Reflecting on these names of Jesus can bring us closer to him as we come to know him as one who is everything we need.
He also named “Immanuel” meaning “God is with us”. (Matthew 1:23). This is one of my favourite names for Jesus that often refer to during Advent.
What radical truth the name Immanuel stands for! Since Jesus was born as a baby, fully human and fully divine, God is truly with us. He knows the joys of life, of family, laughter, hanging out with friends and celebrations. He also knows what it is like to be tempted, to be betrayed and rejected, to feel sorrow and all the emotions and struggles we might experience.
As we continue in this Advent season, I pray that you will know deep within your soul that Jesus is not only with you, but he understands better than anyone else what you experience at any moment of the day. This truly is the miracle of the baby’s birth that we celebrate at Christmas!