Names have always fascinated me. We give our children names all the time, having no idea what they might actually mean in the language they came from. My wife’s name, quite luckily and appropriately means beautiful in Spanish. Mine may mean red, or red haired. My father was red haired, but mine was as ash brown as ditch water. Like many people, my name was given because it sounded cool. The Bible is full of people with bizarre and sometimes ironic names. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was originally Miriam, and meant bitter. It may have applied well to Moses’ sister, but not as much to the mother of the Savior, at least as a description for her temperament. Her name only fit at the end, as she looked upon her son on the crucifixion stake.
Sometimes, to no fault of your own, your name brings confusion and danger. I recently met a man named Chuck Norris. No not the famous one, but hold on, that did not stop him from stepping into a karate mismatch, designed for the other Chuck Norris, not yet famous, but a black belt never the less, and pitted against someone of near equal skill. In a strange but true coincidence, two men with the same name attended the very same karate tournament, and when my Chuck Norris heard his name called he stepped into the shortest match of his karate career. The man in front of him was psyched up to spar with the nationally famous martial arts master, and gave it all he had. That day he could truthfully boast he whipped Chuck Norris in short order. And the fellow I met, the not so famous Chuck, will always be able to tell people he took a bad butt beating for Chuck Norris, even if it was a case of mistaken identity…
The same day I met this unknown Chuck, I also met a fellow named Al Calefino. He stepped into a noisy, busy restaurant with his date one night, with music blasting, and the hostess, struggling to understand him over the racket, asked his name, so she could put him on the waiting list. As soon as he told her, she escorted him to the bar, and ignored him for the rest of the evening.
After considerable time, and a few drinks, Calefino noticed people now leaving with satisfied looks, who had been in line right in front of him over an hour before. He confronted the hostess, demanding to know what the problem might be. She responded sarcastically, that when she asked him his name, he had said “Hell if I know” and she decided to put him somewhere until he remembered.
Jesus had similar problems with his name. Jeshua/Yeshua, meaning God saves, was the name of several famous heroes of Israel. The name can be rendered or understood as Joshua, Jesaiah, and Isaiah. The word we know came out of the Greek, written Iesous, but meaning the same. As you can imagine, just as today, there were a lot of Joshuas.
Young and no doubt amazed, Mary (Bitter) was told by a messenger of God to name her future son Jesus (God is salvation), when the very act of her impregnation could cause her own demise, in a culture that was programmed by God himself not to tolerate fornication, which might be suspected of her since she was not yet married. Soon Jesus was recognized for all that he was, and be called the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and the Son of God. Jesus often referred to God as Abba, “the Father.” This must have caused great confusion when the authorities, who had condemned Jesus to die, offered the locals one of two choices to be released and charges against them dropped; The man Jesus, who had been called King of the Jews, and the Son of God, or another man, a known freedom fighter accused of murder named Barabbas, whose name actually translated into Son of Father!
“Which do you want released, and set free, Jeshua (Yahweh is Salvation), or Barabbas (Son of the Father)?” God seemed to have set everything up so that Jesus would be the victim of mass confusion, even that revolving around his own name. He was Jeshua… and he was also Bar Abba! To make sure they had the right guy, the Roman authorities posted a sign over his crucifixion pole that read “This is Jesus King of the Jews” in several languages. The Romans were glad to make an example out of a popular leader of the people in Judah (Let God be praised, “Praise God!”), with an historic, common and inspiring name, and act as if they believed they had just tortured and killed the King of the Jews. And they had. But way back in the beginning, at Bethlehem (House of Bread) when he was still wet behind the ears, the angels had announced His plethora of names, and all were evidence of his significance.
Jesus (God saves), Savior, Christ (Annointed One) the Lord, and yet a babe, lying in a livestock shelter. Since then we have come to know him as Advocate, Beloved, Bread of Life, Bridegroom, Bright Morning Star, Firstborn, Chief Counselor, Cornerstone, Faithful and True, High Priest, King of kings, Light of the World, Master, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Wonderful, The WORD, the Alpha and Omega, the Great I Am. As time has passed into millennia, our ability to give Him a name has not improved. The more we try, the more outrageous we appear to outsiders, who like Pontius Pilate, see only a man.
But we know you can call a man Chuck Norris, and that does not make him a martial arts champion. We know that we could tell people that His name is Immanuel (God with us), but it would not change what they hear, unless God has opened their ears in spite of their bias or disinterest. We know that just the power of His name can heal, and cast out devils, and save souls. But that name must be written in our hearts, and not on signs or in books or on bumper stickers. We know that come Judgment, the seal of His name will be stamped on the scroll, and we will enter paradise on His account.
We celebrate his birthday on this day we call Christmas, because His birth and life changed history and the fate of mankind. And it was a time when names meant something: Increaser (Joseph)and Bitter (Mary) of Consecrated Prince Place (Nazareth) had a baby named God is Salvation (Jesus) , in a shed at House of Bread (Bethlehem) , near Possession of Peace (Jerusalem) , the Holy City of God in Praise God (Judah) !
...Six months before, Bitter’s relative, God is an Oath, had given birth in her old age to God is Gracious, who would someday preach repentance in the wilderness on the river Descender, and publically ritually bathe God is Salvation, announcing Him to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. God is Salvation would gather disciples, like Joined and Hearing, and change their names forever to Gift of Yahweh and Little Stone. Some day they and people like them would be called Little Christs.
And if you understood all of that, then you are well on your way to seeing through the ages of fog obscuring this day. Perhaps you actually grasp the true meaning of Christmas, which by any other name, would still be the Advent of God in the Flesh!
And His name, how did we, his devoted followers manage to butcher it so badly? Calefino!