Our Names, Our God

Wednesday, January 1, 2014 – Holy Name

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 103 (morning) // 148 (evening)

Isaiah 62:1-5, 10-12

Revelation 19:11-16

Matthew 1:18-25

Before my son was born, my husband and I spent hours scouring lists of baby names. His first name came to us easily, but we agonized about a middle name. Most baby name lists include the purported meaning of each name. Some of the year’s most popular names for boys mean “protector” and “strong.” These lists of names and meanings presume that a name can reveal something about its owner’s character and identity.

Many Biblical names work very differently than our common assumptions suggest. These Biblical names don’t reveal something about the one who is named, but about God. My son’s name is “Zadok,” which means “righteous,” or “he is righteous.” At first I was a little worried, because that’s a big name to live into! Would my son really grow up to be righteous?

Fortunately, he doesn’t have to worry. The “he” in “he is righteous” refers not to the name’s owner, but to God. Zadok’s name follows the Biblical convention of names that reveal something about the nature of God, not about ourselves. Our egocentric culture and its concern for individual identity assumes that the referent for a name is the thing named, and not the giver of all names, all natures, and all identities.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. In our gospel this morning, an angel of the Lord assigns two names to the child born of Mary: Jesus, which means “the Lord saves”; and Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” The angel knew what Jesus later realized—that the purpose of his life was not to find himself or to sort out his identity, but to reveal the heart of God to the whole world.

In our human lives, the quest to discover ourselves often goes hand in hand with our quest to disclose the unique revelation of God that our lives can bring to the world. However, our formation often over-emphasizes the search for our own selves and the shaping of our own identities. As we explore the meaning of our names and the meaning of our lives, the Holy Name of Jesus reminds us that we are seeking not only to understand ourselves, but also to reveal our God.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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