Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 4 Advent, 18 Dec. 2016
Year A RCL: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew1:18-25
What's in a name?
Shakespeare has Juliet tell us:
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."1
You may recall Romeo & Juliet discuss the blight their last names put on their relationship. The 2 families are sworn enemies. It helps to discuss a problem. It helps to name a problem. If you can name it, you can claim it!
A variation of this saying tells us we can't solve a problem until we identify the problem. We have to know what our challenge is to resolve it. Knowing the name of something matters. In the Bible, a name matters big time.
To know someone's name is to have some control over the person. You recall when Moses encounters God at the burning bush, he asks God's name. God says “I am who I am.” Names have meaning.
Our scriptures today have more than 12 references to names.
In the reading from Isaiah, Ahaz sounds really upright when he refuses to put God to the test. This sounds as if he's living into the meaning of his name: “he was grasped”2 – as if grasped by awe of God.
Ahaz isn't upright. He is up-tight, grasped by fear. Fear of change, fear of invasion lead him to trust another ruler's intervention instead of trusting God,3 giving us yet another story in the Bible of humans doing things our own way, not fully trusting God, messing up, creating one more mess only God can redeem.
You & I are blessed to know God redeems us through Jesus' birth & his sacrifice on the cross. We read our Isaiah passage knowing the Good News of Jesus. Through Jesus [as one Bible commentary says of this passage] “God...[fulfills God's] promise that God would be with his people...”4
God is with us. We know this because of Jesus. We know God is also with us through each other. God works through Jesus to redeem the messes we make AND, because we belong to Jesus, God works with us through the power of the Holy Spirit to solve some messes.
As co-workers in God's clean-up crew, we help God create beautiful “newness” in renewed life. We see God working through people so clearly in our Gospel:
As Jesus' mother, Mary obviously is a key worker. Her name may mean “beloved”5. She is beloved by many. What kind of Christmas could we have if she had said “NO” to God's call? We are thankful for her “Yes.”
We must be thankful for Joseph's “Yes” in this difficult situation. Joseph, whose name means “may God add,”6 is vitally important in God's plan. Through him, God adds grace to life, like we see in Joseph's his ancestor, Joseph, whose brothers sell him into slavery & years later he saves them & many who would have starved in the famine.
God adds security, wisdom, & strength to Mary & Jesus through Joseph, a good man, who trusts God, who makes sure the family is safe & does what is right. He makes sure they observe religious requirements. When Jesus is 8-days-old, Joseph & Mary take Jesus to the temple to do what is expected with the first-born: present him to be dedicated to God.
When we present a person for baptism, dedicating them to God, we do so for them to receive the Holy Spirit, to become a living temple for the Holy Spirit. Through baptism each of us has been transformed, to shine the light of God's grace, to shine the light of Christ to the people in our lives.
To paraphrase from Paul's letter to the Romans: As servants of Jesus Christ, set apart for the Gospel to share the Good News in our generation, each of us is called to share the news of Jesus through whom we receive grace to bring about the obedience of faith among others for Jesus' sake.
As a Christian, you are “a little Christ,” anointed or bearing Christ,7 a sign of God's saving grace & love in this hurting world. You are a sign of God's life in holy community, a reflection of the Mystery we call the Holy Trinity. It is this Beloved Unity in whose image we are made & by whose grace we live as Brothers & Sisters.
As Beloved Sisters & Brothers in Christ, we are to pray for each other & help each other live into God's love. May we have the grace to help each other live into “friendship with Jesus.8
In our lesson from Romans, Paul reminds us we are called to be saints. Saints are friends with Jesus Christ.
As we hear in Celtic Praise,
Friendship with Christ cannot be claimed, but only received.
It is not a right, but privilege.
Open your heart to Christ,
& he will enter.
Come to him on your knees,
& he will raise you up.
Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Gen. Ed: Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1973.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985. p. 851.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
http://www.bartleby.com/70/3822.html Accessed: 16 Dec. 2016.
http://www.behindthename.com. Accessed: 16 Dec. 2016.
http://www.ourbabynamer.com. Accessed: 16 Dec. 2016.
http://www.sheknows.com/baby-names. Accessed: 16 Dec. 2016.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1998.
2 Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Gen. Ed: Merrill C. Tenney. P. 5.
3 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 798.
4 Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. P. 952.
6 Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Gen. Ed: Merrill C. Tenney. P. 85.
8 Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. P. 33.