Sunday, December 19, 2010

What’s in a name? - Matthew 1:18-25

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 2010
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Read Matthew 1:18-95 here
How often do you spend thinking about your name?  What is your reaction when people say your name?  Diane.  who said that!? (Jumping with surprise) David...  Such a regal sounding name, (you think proudly).  
Am I the only person in the world who was named for his grandfather, and when his grandfather heard that one of his grandsons had been given his name responded,
“You know, I’ve always hated that name.”  I was not very proud of my name growing up, and hated when roll was called in class on the first day of school.  Chester Topple... the teacher would say.  I would cower, and utter a squeakie, “here” as the other kids snickered.  

Our names whether we like them or not, say something about us, they have a real say in our identity, in our self understanding. A few summers ago at Ghost Ranch Youth Week,
I met a kid who called himself Tiki.  He had just graduated from High School.  He had two brothers and a sister there, all younger, whose names were Joey, Julian, and Jasmin.
So Tiki? What were his folks thinking?  Experimental first child? Well it turns out that his name is actually Joel. Check this out: His family- who identifies itself as Mexican-American
moved from El Paso to Nebraska when hurricane Rita swept through. He was going into the ninth grade. Before he started school he decided that instead of being Joel from El Paso, and potentially face discrimination in a place that wasn’t very accustomed to color, he was going to change his name to Tiki from Hawaii. He would go for exotic, and it worked. The kids thought it was awesome to have a Hawaiian kid in their school.  Tiki was a confident, talented, funny kid, who loved God and had a great personality.  Who would I have met if four years earlier he left his name, Joel?  

Think about your names.  How they have shaped your identity. What they represent, or mean.  
Did you ever ask your parents why they named you what they did?  Have you thought about changing what your parents chose?  Have any of you looked up your name’s meaning?  
What were some?

Looking at our biblical passages for today, the fourth Sunday of Advent - are you ready for Christmas? - Names play a crucial part in the the story.

Now, I’d like to take a little survey of the congregation. There are three options when calling on the name of Mary’s son: Jesus, Christ, and Emmanuel.
Which of the three do you prefer.
How many are in the Jesus camp?
How about Emmanuel?

Some may like the combination: Jesus Christ, as if Christ were some sort of last name.  

The names given to Mary’s child-
Jesus, I mean Christ, I mean Emmanuel-are important to be sure.
Talk about some awesome meanings:

-Jesus, means He saves [Yeshua (aramaic), derived from Joshua (Hebrew)]
-Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew), is a title, Jesus the Messiah. It means the Savior.
Translated into English we have The Savior Saves.  Now what about Emmanuel: how come we don’t talk more about Emmanuel?   I mean, Saving Savior is nice, but you want a real trump card: Try God With Us.  Does it get any more reassuring and comforting than that?  If God is with us, we are never alone.  But, come to think of it, maybe that idea doesn’t sit to well with us. Sometimes we want to be left alone, don’t want God messing with us.  Maybe, it can be easier to just call on a Savior when it’s convenient, or acknowledge that we have been saved, once and for all, so then we can move on and do whatever we want.  But Emmanuel.  God with us. A word of comfort, yes...a word of discomfort...could be.

Thinking about names, who names Jesus?

Or try this one:
To whom did the angel appear to tell the news about the birth of Jesus?  

This time of year we can envision so well the flapping wings of Angel Gabriel as he floats in mid-air to announce to Mary: “ Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women.” But, this isn’t the way Matthew tells the story. In Matthew, Mary is kind of a background figure. It is an anonymous “angel of the Lord” who appears...
to Joseph... in a dream, (Joseph the dreamer).
The instructions are clear: Don’t divorce Mary...who is, the kid isn’t yours;  
- Take Mary to your house. - when the kid is born, “thou shalt call his name JESUS”

Then in kind of a stumbling bumbling literary move, Matthew follows this dramatic dream, by inserting: This is to fulfill the words of the prophet: “Behold , a virgin shall be with child , and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.”
Uh, okay.
The kid will definitely have a name: Jesus, And Emmanuel.  And the fact that this child is named is great!  You can’t not name a child. Eventually, it will be called something.
So a name means that this child, God with us, Savior, Took on flesh and bone.  Incarnation: so ordinary, so extraordinary.  His name shall be!   

But there is even more to Matthew’s story than simply acknowledging that a name acknowledges incarnation.  Go with me a bit deeper behind the scene, and let’s see what may be going on here. Matthew begins his not-as-poetic-as-Luke, yet God inspired story of the life of Jesus, the most important story to ever be told, the greatest news ever, with these fireworks:
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham begat Isaac,
Isaac begat Jacob,
Jacob begat Judah and his brothers,
Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar,
Perez begat Hezron,
Hezron begat Aram,
Aram begat Aminadab,
Aminadab begat Nahshon,
Nahshon begat Salmon, Salmon begat Boaz by Rahab,
Boaz begat Obed by Ruth,
Obed begat Jesse,
Jesse begat King David.

Shall I go on?
David begat Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
Solomon begat Rehoboam,
Rehoboam begat Abijah,
Abijah begat Asaph,

It goes on and on generation after generation, name after name.

No wonder we pay more attention to Luke’s version.  

Asaph begat Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat begat Joram,

The genealogy concludes:
Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

Okay, now this actually is important for many reasons. How much research did the evangelist do to get all those names?  Many of then are not even mentioned in the Old Testament.  In the genealogy of Matthew, the list of begettings have a set pattern I’m sure we all picked up on:  
A begat B;  B begat C; through three sets of fourteen generations.  But, did you see what happened at the end of the line...the generation that was the whole point of the genealogy?
The format changed: it wasn’t Jacob begat Joseph, and Joseph begat Jesus who is called the Christ,” but “Jacob begat Joseph, husband of Mary, of who was begotten Jesus, called the Christ.” A peculiar phrasing?
For the most part, the beggettings are all about the role of men in the reproductive cycle.

For somewhat obvious reasons, Matthew mentions Mary.
But, among all the men, Matthew also mentions four other women found in the Old Testament.
They all seem to have one thing in common:
 Strange even scandalous events surround their pregnancy.  
Rahab and Ruth’s stories ought not be told in church.  
The other two Tamar and Bathsheba.
Tamar, the widow of Judah’s son, was found to be with child long after her husband’s death;
Her father in law said, “Shame on you.”
Until he found out that he was the father.  
And Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, became pregnant not by her husband but by the mighty king David.  
It’s not Sarah, nor Rebbecca, but these women, in spite of, or maybe because of the soap opera like situations surrounding their pregnancies who Matthew names.

And then comes Mary.  
Does scandal surround her story as well?
Matthew knows that’s what the listener might think,
he has set it up that way,
so he quickly clarifies before he can get to the controversies surrounding the story
Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit, lest we jump to any conclusions.  

She and Joseph have been married, the papers have been signed,
But before they are allowed to live with each other, as part of a customary interim period
Mary is found with child.
What was Joseph to do?
It’s not his.  What was he to do?

He had made a decision:
“Before they came together, Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and Joseph her husband, being a just man and unwilling to shame her, decided to divorce her quietly.” (18-19)

When Matthew says Joseph is “just”, he is saying Joseph knows and obeys the Law of God.   
His decision to divorce her for carrying a child that wasn’t his showed a sensitivity to Israel’s understanding of the sanctity of marriage required by God’s law, since her loss of virginity might have been considered adultery (Deut 22:20-21). But Joseph was also sensitive to the protective character of the law, which indicated two ways in which a woman might become pregnant before joining her husband; she might willingly have relations with another and commit adultery (Dt 22:20-24), or she might be forced against her will and thus remain innocent (Dt 22:25-27).  To determine Mary’s role in her pregnancy, Joseph could have demanded a trail.  But, Joseph wasn’t going to show how just he was at Mary’s expense:
He wasn’t going to call her out in public, Joseph had chosen to divorce her “quietly”
(Ray Brown, Coming Christ in Advent, much of the above hermenutical commentary comes from his book, chapter 2)

And then comes the dream!  Then comes the angel!  Then comes the truth behind the mystery!  
And Joseph takes Mary as his wife.  
(this image may be subject to copyright) .
A wonderful saying describing relationships that have undergone some stress in Trasie’s side of our family, “i’m still going on with you.”  
For Mathew the hero of Jesus’ scandalous birth story is a very sensitive Law observing Jewish carpenter, who through God’s revelation decides:  “Mary, what happened is kind of strange, but I’m still going on with you.”
This is the heart of the matter as we witness the heart of Joseph toward his young pregnant bride, and the baby boy growing within her sacred womb. What’s in the name? Jewish law says that when the father names a child, the father claims the child.  When Joseph gives the baby boy his name, Jesus, he not only says this one is a special one who will save the world, he also says according to societal customs, I am the father.  This one is mine.  In this way he fulfills the prophecy, he preserves both the goodly and the scandalous heritage that makes up the baby’s family tree.  You shall name him Jesus, the angel of the Lord tells Joseph.  And Joseph does just that.

And that Jesus, who was born all those years ago is Emmanuel. God with us.  And God with us calls us. God with us knows what it means to have a less than perfect past, and God with us still claims us as his children when he calls us by our names, no matter what kind of baggage we may carry....

Don’t you remember that time.  That time in your life when you were called.  That time in your life when you heard your name.  And the voice said: Come and follow me. Come and be my disciple. Come and witness to God’s good purposes here on earth. Come. Emmanuel, God with us called, you; Emmanuel, God with us, God claims you.

Do me a favor. Turn to a person sitting near you.  Say their name (it should be on their name tag if you’re not sure).  Say their name again and say to one another:  “I’m glad you’re part of the family.”

Friday, we celebrate the holy family at the Christmas eve service. It begins at 6 pm. And should be a wonderful time.

As we recall the story of the birth of Jesus, we are going to sing a hymn. Mary’s song.  

Now Mary’s song is her response to what the Angel Gabriel announced to her. So these words come from which gospel?   

You were paying attention!

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