THE SWEETEST NAME
Think about how many children have been misnamed. In school I remember a mild-mannered, weak-willed boy whose name was Leo, Latin for Lion. In college I knew a very attractive young lady named Bertha, but I had been trained to associate that name with the wife of the owner of the Krupp works, after whom the famous gun was named. There have been a number of dull, unintelligent people named Socrates, and at least one Catholic priest whose first name was Luther. I don’t have any second thoughts about my own name, which is neutral enough, but some people hate their names so much that they change them.
Mary and Joseph didn’t have that problem. The name of their Child had already been selected, and revealed by angels, first to Mary at the Annunciation, and then to Joseph in a dream. Ever since then Jesus has been the holiest name in the universe. Angels whisper it with the greatest awe, clergymen bow their heads as they read it during the liturgy, but there are fools who blaspheme it for the silliest reasons. I wonder if those fools ever consider what they are blaspheming, what the angels dare only to pronounce with the highest respect! "Jesus" is the Greek translation of Joshua, the Hebrew name that means "He will deliver." The ancient Joshua did that, conquering the land of Canaan, destroying the walls of Jericho, and judging Israel. But the Old Testament Joshua could not take away sins. Jesus of Nazareth, the New Testament Joshua, was far more effective. St. Luke tells us that when the 70 returned they claimed that Jesus’ name gave them power over the demons. Yes, that is the name fools blaspheme today.
St. Matthew connects the name Jesus with another name, Immanuel, recorded in Isaiah 7:14 as the son of a virgin. St. Matthew wants to show us that a very detailed divine plan was at work here. The angel of the Annunciation made a veiled reference to Immanuel when he told Mary, "The Lord is with thee." Immanuel is Hebrew for "God with us." The angel was proclaiming the divine nature of Jesus, saying that the Child was nothing less than God Incarnate. God had turned the tables on His enemies. If Adam and Eve had sinned in Eden by becoming like God, God now became like man to bring forgiveness. As God placed a cherub to prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, so their most important Descendant would be mortal to redeem us.
When Joseph heard the angel say these things he was relieved. He knew the baby wasn’t his, yet he loved Mary too much to make a big fuss about it. He didn’t want to lose his self-respect, so his heart was troubled, but the angel assured him that the Child was from the Holy Spirit. God definitely wanted Joseph to rear this Child as though He were his own. Joseph did so, and at least that problem was solved.
One famous American once said that the sweetest words he knew were "mother", "home", and "heaven." No doubt those words are sweet, but they fall short of the holy name of Jesus. Every country has had its heroes, its deliverers. In ancient Israel there were Gideon and Samuel. Among the Jews there were Esther and the Maccabees. Among more modern nations there are Joan of Arc, William of Orange, even the great pianist, Paderewski. None of these political heroes could deliver from sin. Many of Jesus’ own contemporaries were disappointed that He wasn’t such a deliverer. They wanted liberation, and wanted Jesus to be a Hebrew Ho Chi Minh. So little did they understand their real problem.
Do we really understand it that much better? Aren’t we also more concerned about the uncomfortable consequences of sin that we seek relief from the symptoms? Jesus wants to give us the genuine cure. His name does not mean "problem-solver," or "king-maker," or "constant companion." It means "Savior." That’s what He promises to be for you. He doesn’t promise to be your personal Santa Claus, or your witch doctor, or anyone who benefits you on your terms. He does promise to take away sin, and with it all of its evil consequences. Sin is your big problem, and Jesus will take it away, on His terms. It isn’t just you. Sin has deformed, defiled, and disordered the whole universe. Jesus alone is still right-side up. His help is real help, not just for the symptoms, but for the root problem. It was for you that He died and rose again.
Don’t settle for half a Savior. The Savior God gives you lacks nothing. Grasp Him as Jacob grasped the angel, and do not let Him go until He blesses you. That doesn’t mean you can demand anything of Him, but take the blessing He wants to give, forgiveness, life and salvation. Don’t settle for only a part. He wasn’t just a Physician, though He healed; He wasn’t just a Teacher, though He taught; He wasn’t just a Prophet, though He preached; He wasn’t just an Altruist, though nobody ever gave more of Himself. The Passion story has the most important message, how He died, how He forgave His enemies, how He rose again, how He explained to His disciples why all these things had to be, how He calls us to follow the way He went. Joseph probably only knew a small part of the story when he obeyed the angel, but he knew enough to trust God. He followed patiently, accepting what would happen on God’s terms, because he knew God was keeping His promises. He will keep them for all of us as well.
Jesus has begun a good work in us. Now daily He brings it toward completion as He leads us to look away from ourselves to the One who fulfills all promises, to the One who is Immanuel, God Incarnate, and who is also Jesus, the Savior who has delivered us from sin, death, and the devil. Learn to say His name with reverence, to call upon that name whenever you’re in trouble, to look to that name as the fulfillment of all hopes and promises. For us, that name is the sweetest of all. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross