Noah, Oliver/Olivia, Amelia and Lilly are some of the most popular baby names of 2020. In our context, names tend to carry little meaning or significance beyond a memory, or trend. Yet, some names will have stories behind them, perhaps memories of loved ones or significant people in the family’s life around the child.
Regardless of our context, names carry meaning, even if it is often a secondary thing today. Our names mean something: take Andrew, it means one who has great strength – a great warrior! Thankfully I do not assume my parents named me in the belief that I might ever have to prove the meaning of my name. Today the meaning of our names has little significance for us, yet, in the time and context of Jesus, the meaning of a name was significant. For those who read the Biblical texts, the main characters’ names often tell us something about their story or how God might use them.
Through every page of the Bible, names help us to understand the work of God and the role of those who he called to serve him: Moses (To Pull out of Water), Joshua (The Lord is My Salvation), Ruth (Pity, Distress), David (Beloved), Solomon (Peace). Each of these people’s names carried significant for their calling and context in which God was using them. At times we also see people receiving new names in the Bible, a change that signifies a new season: Jacob (Scum) became Israel (Wrestles with God) and Simon (Sone of Jonah) became Peter (Rock). To recognise these moments in the Bible adds to our understanding of what God was doing and what truth is being taught.
We might not know the meaning behind our names, we may have even passed over the names in our favourite bible passage, and while knowing those names can help us understand the fullness of what God is doing to learn those names aids us but does nothing to us. Yet, there is one name in the Bible and all of human history that if we grasp its meaning, it not only aids our understanding it transforms us! That name is the name of Jesus. Our passage today finds us with Mary, Joseph and the baby just after he has been born. The Christ child is lying in a manger, and even before he is named throughout the unfolding narrative, we learn the meaning and power of his name for all who might believe. The purpose of his name is rescuer and deliverer; Today, we understand that is more than just informative – it is transformative for all who come to know it because his name acts thus for all who come to know his name because of its power his name gives hope. His name provides hope because his name is the power of salvation: to know it is to understand the redemptive work of Christ. We learn that there is power in his name to save, even before leaving the manger. His name means rescuer and hope for all who might believe; the question is, what does his name mean for you?
Passage: Luke 2:16-21 (NIV)
Luke 2:16-21 (NIV)
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the Angel had given him before he was conceived.
We meet the most ordinary of people at the beginning of this scene. They are the picture of me and you, not the ones the world might expect God to appear to and announce his final act. Yet, He did appear (a reminder of how the Kingdom of God works). Hence we meet the Shepherds as they move to heed the instructions they have been given, to go and find the baby lying in a manger. To better understand the wonder of our passage, it helps to be mindful of the events just before. In verses 8-14, we are introduced to some shepherds in the field tending to their flocks. It is the most ordinary of scenes, working men out making a living and yet in that ordinary a messenger of God appears before and tells them what their world has been waiting to hear.
The Heavens open and the ordinary is disturbed by the most extraordinary announcement – the one which Israel has been waiting for is to be born that night! Imagine being there in that moment, just going about your normal as working people in the countryside outside an insignificant town, in a small town outside of the city. Yet that is where God chooses to appear to announce the final act of his redemptive plan to the world. Thus, a messenger appears and instructs the Shepherd to seek out the child in a manger, and a choir of heavenly hosts booms before them praises to God.
The King and his Kingdom
It is a scene that emphasises two themes for us (that extend throughout Lukes Gospel). First, this is a Messiah that looks nothing like the world’s expectation. Furthermore, even those who have studied the scriptures and claim to know God will not see Him come because he comes in a way that no one will expect. He might be the Saviour of the world, but He will not conform to worldly standards. Secondly, those who see through the world’s eyes will look at him and see through him; they will not recognise him as the promised Messiah of God. It will only be humble of the world, the outcasts the despised and the rejected who will see him and come to know the meaning of his name. The Angels’ Appearance is vital to our reading because it tells us something about the one who will be named. It tells us of his Kingship that He is the Lord of Heavenly Hosts. Furthermore, it tells us something about his Kingdom and what citizenship of it looks like. Those who will belong to Jesus will not be those great in the eyes of the world, and the way his Kingdom will advance and work in ways contra to the ways of the world.
Luke presents an urgency in the Shepherds as they respond to the announcement of hope, they have forgotten their flocks, and they have only one thing on their mind: to find the child in the manger who they have been told is the Saviour (deliverer), he who has been born is both Messiah/Christ (The Anointed One) and Lord (Having Power, Authority – Master). Our Shepherd in a moment step out of their routine and go to find such a baby lying in a manger, who for them represents hope, even though they do not fully understand what is going on – they know that a good God is at work and can be trusted hence the move in trust, hope and expectation.
From the Fields to a Manger (15-16)
Imagine that moment as suddenly, the heavens fall silent, and the Shepherd responded to God. There is no waiting, no leaving it until later – it is about now. Luke in how he writes, and the language he uses emphasis the urgency of the situation and their quick action to go and find the one they have been told to look for. They respond to Gods messengers’ instructions, and they go searching for the one lying in a manger. There is a beauty in their simplicity; they are not consumed with the Glory of heaven they have just witnessed, they do not wait to see if there is something more, if the angels make an encore. They respond to the instructions they have been given and seek out the greater Glory of the promised Messiah.
They display no misgivings or doubts, they simply hold to the truth of what has been promised and the assurance of the direction they have been given, and they move off to seek the servant king born into the silence of the world and under the shadow of Scandal. As soon as they have left, they have found the one they sought, as if guided by the Holy Spirit and there before their eyes stand Mary and Joseph and their new infant wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. The Shepherd display to us a simple faithfulness as they respond to the directions of God, a faith that we must look to and model as we live in this world and respond to the good news of Jesus. We do not often know the why of the instruction of God, but we see the heart of God, and thus we can trust them as we respond to them.
Responding to Hope(16-19)
Everyone reacts differently to events; you and a family member can experience the same drama and respond in entirely different ways. There is no right way to respond to anything, as our passage unfolds and the Shepherds stand before the Christ Child and his parents we see two responses: They respond by Worship and sharing and then we are told of the reaction of Mary who acts differently to all that has taken place, yet nonetheless faithfully.
Sharing hope (16-17)
The Angels announced that the Saviour had been born and the Messiah had entered into the world, the Shepherd having witnessed this and believed: now they take the place of the Angels as they share all they had been told concerning the child. Like Mary before them, they believed what God had spoken to them through the Angel, now they go and share that others might know the same things. It is perhaps the first mission of evangelism into the world, Shepherd not sure of what they have certain but certain of its truth that the hope provided through it, so they tell about it! When we come to know the name of Jesus and the hope it brings, the natural flow us to make it know. The Christ-child who had been born under the shadow of shame and Scandal in the most humble of surroundings is being declared as the hope of the world by these men.
Think about how the whole thing looks in the eyes of the world: There in that Stable gathered a Family under the shadow of shame and Scandal; Mary pregnant out of wedlock, and Joseph marrying a woman carrying a child that was not his. Yet, enter a group of Shepherd’s who recognised the hope of the world. From Scandal would come salvation, as the shepherds shared the hope of Christ, a hope that was born in the darkest of situations so to do we respond to knowing his name by making his name known that others might have certain hope amid covid, and all that is going on in the world around us. Stood the hope of the world in the darkest of situations.
A Simplicity of Faith
It is a beautiful moment as simple men believe at face value what the Lord had shared with them that night, then as they went and discovered the scene and took stock of everything, they became so thrilled that they could do nothing but share the news of the coming Messiah into the world. This was not a few men wandering the streets and saying: “You should see the baby lying in a manger he is so cute!” No, these are men who have been transformed by the news of the coming Messiah. Hence they make known the coming of the Messiah to the world around them. The Angel had told them what that baby lying in a manger meant for all of humankind, and upon seeing it, they believed! Suddenly the darkness seemed less heavy, as hope abounded that God was on the move. The Shepherds display a simple faith; they do not debate the reality of what they experienced out in the fields, nor do they wonder if they should go. Simply; what they held to be true in their hearts they knew to be accurate by their experienced and that truth transformed them into messenger and true worshippers of the Lord as they shared about all they had witnessed and worshipped God in response to what he was doing (20).
They have been transformed by all that happened, and now the natural reaction is to share it! So blatant was the transformation that all they told reacted in amazement. This is a natural fruit of all who truly know Jesus and walk the road of discipleship with him. Our faith is a simple one, but its effect on the person is profound as the old ways are replaced with new desires shaped by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit at work in us. A transformation that is true both draws people to us as our lives shine out the light of Christ into the darkness of a failing world, and our words tell of the Love and work of God in the world.
Dwelling on Hope(19)
Our transformation journey with the Shepherd has been interrupted as our eyes are brought to a vision of Mary. She has also been affected by all the events that are going on. She was already aware of something of God in the whole thing – with the miraculous birth and al – but in case she had forgotten any of it or convinced herself that she was dreaming, the shepherds appeared having been sent by God to witness the birth of the Messiah. I wonder what that conversation and interaction must have been like in those moments after the birth, as the baby lay in a manger and suddenly the peace is disturbed by the hustle and bustle as the shepherds arrive! I wonder did they need to ask, or did they just see the baby lying there and at that moment respond to all that God had told them by telling Mary and Joseph what brought them there.
We will never know the exact details, and we do not need to, but what we are given is a contrast and a different reaction to the same events. Whereas the Shepherds display a wonderful simplicity in these supernatural matters, believe the Lord at his word, responding to it, then worshipping Him and telling all about Him: Mary displays a deeper reaction a more considered approach as she takes stock of all that has happened. She meditates seriously on all that has just happened, with the sense being not just at that moment but for a significant period of time – perhaps from the moments the Angel first appeared to her, and then Joseph. Mary is presented as one who reflects with seriousness all that is going on in her life. A continuous deep reflection about the work of God in her life and the world around us, and altogether different reaction to the Shepherd but none the less correct. The tense of “treasure” and “ponder” infer a consider of this event individual and then in light of all that has been going. Mary is dwelling on the work of God and the hope that is coming out of it!
Each of us is made differently in faith; some will be like the Shepherd and more urgency respond to the things of God, other will be like Mary who thought over all the things in marvel and wonder at what God was doing. What is important is not that we try to be one or other, but simply respond to God and his works in faith in ways that honour him and how he has made us. There will be moments we must be like the Shepherd and act in simple faith. Then there will be days, seasons and events that will require us to ponder, wait and store up the goodness of God. Whatever is our way, let us simply make sure we know the name of Jesus as it needs to be known to both.
A people transformed by Worship (20)
It is a wonderful thing to have a mountain top experience, those moments when something unexpected happens in a positive way. If I asked you to think of those times in your life, we could all find one memory that would spark positive emotions, and bring a smile to our face as we recalled it. Yet, equally the memory soon fades like the moment we recall; mountain top experiences are just that – brief moments in life when joy, happiness or something superabounds, but as soon as it starts it ends. Eventually, things must return to normal as we head back down the mountain to normality! The Shepherds had found themselves on top of a mountain that night, The unexpected arrival of the messenger of God and his choir, the journey to find the child lying in a manger and all the exuberant joy it would bring. Yet, no sooner had they been in the middle of this wonderful moment must it end: soon things must return to normal: we must walk down the mountain. The Shepherds could not live in that moment forever; they had to go back – they could not abandon their families, sheep, or work to stay where they were (even if they wanted to).
Yet they may have returned to what they once knew, but they did not return to who they once were. These men must return to what was, but that does not mean they return as they were. No, for they have encountered God in all His Glory and humility: from the heavenly hosts to the baby lying in a manger, the lesson is clear, anyone who has genuinely encountered God cannot remain the same. Hence these men might return to what was, but there is real evidence that they have been transformed by the Gospel even before it was fully revealed. First, their sharing of Jesus with all who might hear as they returned to their fields, and then their actions as they went. These were men who had been transformed as now their lives orientated upward to They may have returned to the old, but they walked in the newness of certain hope. In the shepherds, we see what true conversion looks like – a life oriented to God; hence as they walked, they Glorified and praised God. You want to know what it means to follow God, to come to know the meaning of the name of Jesus and live for him? Then look at the shepherds, they are a summary image of true discipleship. A life that as it lives where God has placed it takes God at his word, trusts his directions, and tells people about what he is doing, and to know not the distractions of our normal but orientate our lives upwards to God – they worship him! To see Christ is to see God and to see the name of Jesus means knowing the wonder of God. This is what discipleship looks like, and in this small section of scripture, we see that this is the way of discipleship: to know and see the hand of God in all things and praise him for it. If we know the name of Jesus, then this will be our way – so we must ask ourselves what does the name of Jesus mean to us?
Conclusion: His Name Means Rescue (21)
The passage finishes in a strange note as it seems to be a different scene altogether. Yet, it is an important ceremony in Jewish culture and moment for us. It is the passage of circumcision for the baby boy on the eight-day after birth. The moment when he is marked with a sign of God’s covenant. Here in the details of verse 21, we are reminded of both his name and the source of his name: “the name an angel had given him before he was conceived.” While now we might learn his name for the first time, the beauty of the passage is that we already know the meaning of His name and its effect on all who come to know it through faith. His name and the way he name is given reminds us that this was no ordinary child, this was the coming of God into the world, to save God’s people and to enact a plan of redemption that God had set into motion from before the foundation fo the world.
While it began in a whisper under the shadow of Scandal and the mundaneness of the stable. While in the eyes of the world these people where nothing and this child was insignificant, in his name and the source of his name we are reminded that regardless of who we are, where we are or whatever we might face – there is always hope. Not just any old-hope – certain hope, eternal hope, divine hope, an everlasting hope for all who might know it. Hope beyond our contexts and hope in whatever we might face that there is one we can look too and trust – his name is Jesus. So let me ask you, what does his name mean to you? These have been dark days, that with the little flicker of hope on the horizon in the form of the vaccine seem to be getting darker still. Infections are going up, lockdowns are coming down, and we are uncertain just what the winter will look like. Yet, this passage and the whole Bible reminds us that even in this darkness, there is still hope. Even in the darkness of situations, there is a light that shines brighter, calling us to it and directing our paths when we give our lives to it. Today we are reminded that security is not found in the ways of the world, powers of the world or things of the world. It is found where the world would never look, in a child lying in a manger. So let us make sure we know his name as it needs to be known, and then as we walk with Him let us make sure we are making his name Known by our words, example and Worship. His name means hope because he is Lord and Messiah. I wonder what his name means to you?