What’s in a name? Or more specifically—what’s in your name? What does it mean to you?
I remember as a kid hoping that my name might mean something: I was disappointed that I didn’t have a good saint’s name or family name, some hero for me to emulate, so I looked up “Bryan” and discovered that it was Irish-ish, and it meant something like “high” or “noble.” I wondered if my name meant that’s was what I was supposed to be, or if my parents had chosen for me it because of its meaning, because that’s what they hoped for me.
I’ve often wondered if parents choose names for their children that way, as blessings or even prophecies: for example if Margaret and Chris named their daughter Grace so that she would always know that she is God’s gift, or if Martha Jacobson’s parents knew that she would be as hospitable as her biblical namesake. Or did her name make her that way?
My partner David keeps a list of people from the news whose names seem oddly connected to what they do: there’s David Dollar, an economist at the World Bank; Tito Beveredge, who is the head of a liquor company; or one of my favorites is the Rev. Robin Hood, who is an activist on behalf of the poor in Chicago. Maybe best of all is Art Goodtimes, a proponent of recreational marijuana in Colorado.
That’s actually a pretty biblical way of looking at names: Abram gets a new name when God makes a covenant with him, and so does Sarai, his wife; Jacob becomes known as “Israel,” “one who wrestles with God,” and becomes the father of the nation.
Today’s reading from the prophet Baruch promises a new name for the people upon their return from exile: “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” Elsewhere prophets announce other beautiful names for the people: Isaiah promises that those who do justice will be called, “Repairer of the Breach” and “Restorer of Streets to Live in.” These names reflect the particular callings of those who bear them: One of the unique privileges of the people of Israel then and now is to bear into the world the name of the God revealed at Sinai, to be the living witnesses of the relationship between God and Israel revealed in the Torah and in the history of God with the people.
That’s true in the Christian story as well: As we approach Christmas, we remember that the two figures whose births we recall both have their names given to them by the angel Gabriel: Jesus means “God saves,” and John, “gift of God.” Both of them get titles to signify their ministry: baptizer for John, and Jesus “the Christ,” or anointed. Jesus, too, plays the name game: Simon he renames “Peter” or “Rocky,” the rugged foundation of the new community of faith.
So what’s in a name? What’s in your name? What does it mean to you? If God called you to service as a prophet or apostle, what name might God give you? Or are we not important enough for a special name of our own?
Those of us who have been baptized actually did get a special name like that, part of it is all our own, unique to us, and part of it we all share. Along with our given names—David or Paul or Beatrice or Emma—came a title, a new last name of sorts. We are all named “of Christ”: Amy of Christ, Bruce of Christ, Rene of Christ. Each of us is a unique and unrepeatable part of the body of Christ, each of us with a calling of our own within it. In our baptism God has charged each of us with bringing into the world our own dimension of the mystery of Christ, to allow our own unique gifts to bring forth the healing or the peace or the justice or the kindness or the wisdom of Christ, each in our own unrepeatable way.
One of the “comings” of Christ we are preparing for this Advent is the revelation of Christ that appears in each of us and in this church, the mystery of Christ that can only come into the world in us. And this is the place and people where we, as a body, nurture each other into bringing forth the fullness of Christ in this place, in this moment, as the body that is this church.
Which brings us to the troubles of this week, which we can’t ignore, or to the troubles of any week, or to any of the sufferings of the world: Just as it was and is Israel’s vocation to bear the glory and peace and righteousness and mercy of the God of Israel into the world, so it is our Christian calling and privilege to bear Christ into this world, as God’s response to the brokenness and pain, God’s answer to what Margaret Duval two weeks ago in her preaching about stewardship powerfully named the “casual violence” that plagues us, violence that erupts in so many tragic and calculated ways.
Each of us has the capacity to bring into the world in our own unique way, as our own unique selves, a part of the body of Christ through which God desires to save the world. And it is up to each of us to listen for and discover the very concrete ways we might reveal that presence of Christ: in our family lives, in our workplaces, among our friends, and in the marketplace, so that those around us can experience the healing and love of God in Christ as an antidote to the violence that surrounds us and as an invitation to something new and altogether different.
So what’s in a name? What’s in your name? How will you reveal the mystery of Christ this Advent to a world in need of what only you can bring?