Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sermon: Matthew 1: 18-25 What's In A Name?

What does your name mean? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those displays in shops of loads of keyrings, each with a different name on them, personalised for you, and on the back it will tell you something about what your name means and where it comes from. If you’re a Margaret (‘pearl’) or a John (‘God is gracious’), an Elizabeth (‘God’s promise’) or a William (‘protection’), then you could find your name no problem. Maybe you had a less common name and could never find it on the back of a keyring. It took me some time before I found out that Gary means ‘spear’.

Names are important. Sometimes, names are given for a particular reason - perhaps it’s a family name that has been passed down; or perhaps it meant something to your parents. In our Bible reading today, we heard of three names associated with Christmas, and I want to spend a few minutes looking at them with you. They are Christ, Jesus, and Immanuel.

First of all, there’s that name, Christ. That’s not just Jesus’ surname, in the way that yours might be Smith, or mine is McMurray, no, it’s a title, rather than a surname. Jesus is the Christ. It’s a word that means the anointed one - the person that the people of Israel were waiting for throughout their history. The one who was anointed was the king - you might remember Samuel anointing David, who would become the king of Israel (1 Sam 16). Now, in our Bible reading, Joseph is called the son of David - David’s great-great-great-great (and so on) grandson. Jesus is the Christ, because he is God’s king, God’s chosen ruler of his people - great David’s greater son. The baby of Bethlehem is the king of the world.

Is Jesus your king today? Is he ruling over your life, so that you do what he wants?

But more than that, let’s think about the name Jesus itself. In our reading, we find that it comes after Luke 1, when Mary has been visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she is to have a son. Joseph, her fiance discovered that she is pregnant, and it puts Joseph in a tricky situation. It appears that Mary has been unfaithful, and yet he doesn’t want to disgrace her, so he has decided to divorce her quietly.

An angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream to explain what is happening, and tells him to take Mary as his wife. The angel also tells Joseph to give the baby boy the name Jesus - ‘for he will save his people from their sins.’ The name Jesus means ‘God saves’, and the angel spells out exactly who it is that God is saving and what they are being saved from. He will save his people from their sins.

You see, we can’t just think of Jesus as the baby of Bethlehem and leave him in the manger. The baby grew up to be a man, and thirty-three or so years later went up to Jerusalem, where he died on the cross, dying for your sin and mine, to reconcile us to God and to rescue us from our sins. As Paul writes to Timothy, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15) - Christmas is the first step of the rescue mission; of the invasion of occupied territory.

Has Jesus saved you from your sins? Have you trusted in him to take away the punishment your sins deserve?

Finally, at the end of the passage, we’re given the third name - Jesus Christ is also Immanuel. Immanuel means ‘God with us’ - the baby Jesus is no ordinary baby, but is God with us. God has become flesh and lived among us - he knows the pressures we have to endure, the temptations we face, the struggles we have. This means that no matter where you are, or whatever you’re going through, God is with you.

Names can be important, and no names are more important than these names that we’ve thought about this morning - Immanuel, God is with us; the Christ, God’s king; Jesus, God saves. Years later, some followers of Jesus have been arrested, and are brought before the Jewish council. Peter declares this: ‘And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’

Our prayer is that you will rejoice in this great salvation this Christmas time, and all because of the baby Jesus, the rescuer, the one who saves.

This sermon was preached at the special Christmas Communion service in St Elizabeth's Court, Dundonald on Wednesday 8th December 2010.

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