Saturday, December 17, 2016

What's in a name?

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 28, 2016:

Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are interesting things, and they usually come with a story. Let me give you an example. I have a beautiful black and white cat named Lucky. I have had lucky for almost 16 years, and he was originally a rescue after he had been injured as a kitten. The local vet was looking for someone to adopt him or they’d have to put him down. So, being a good Franciscan, I took him. I asked my then 6 year old niece to give him a name and she came up with Lucky because as she said then, “He’s lucky to be alive.”

Names have something to say about who we are and where we come from. For example, a few years ago, I lead a pilgrimage to Ireland. I am of Irish-American descent, so this trip also gave me a chance to connect with the roots of my family and our origins. During the journey, we traveled to some of the places that my family originally came from in Ireland which gave me a real sense of my roots. When I came back, I did some additional research on my genealogy and was amazed when I looked up my great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, who was born in Ireland, whose name I share. I never knew him, he returned to the Lord before I was born, but you feel a connection when you share a family name. Well, as I was doing the research and l came across a baptismal record and was stunned to discover that he was born on September 1, 1879. My birthday is also September 1, 89 years later. For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened the connection to this relative whose name I share.

So, names usually have something to tell us about who we are. You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family too. I was thinking about the importance of names as I was reflecting on our Scriptures for today. We heard today two very familiar names that we always associate with Christmastime. The first is from the prophet Isaiah where we hear the familiar, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel.” And, the second name comes in our Gospel passage where the angel says to Joseph in a dream, “[Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus.”

Have you ever wondered why we have these two names? Why the Son born of Mary is named Jesus and not Emmanuel and what it all might mean? Well, of course, these name too have deep meaning for us. Remember that names do a few things: first they are possessive (Who are you? To whom do you belong? Of the house of Washburn or Mitchell? Of the house of Oliveira or Macedo?). Secondly, names say something about us, something about who we are, what we can do, what we are to mean to our people.

The first name we heard today is Emmanuel, and this name tells us something very important about the birth of this child. This is no ordinary child. When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.” His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history. We do not have a God who loves us from afar; a God who communicates to us always through someone or something else. Our God comes to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes; our struggles and challenges. To proclaim His love to us directly. God is with us!

And then, in the Gospel, the angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus, a name that tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means literally, “God is salvation.” The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but that His presence in our midst will also do something so important, so amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear today, the power of the proclamation of this birth: God is with us and is our salvation!

As we enter these final days of our Advent journey, let us be mindful of what we celebrate – the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, our lives, our struggles and our joys. That our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever.

And let us all remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – Christian, a name that means “little Christ.” We remember that the effect of this visitation of our God is that He calls us to be like Him; that when people see us, they see Him; that we are a living reflection of the God who is with us and comes to save us. God is not distant. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar. He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him; and always calling us to reflect His image to the world. This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus. God is with us and will save us. Come, let us adore Him!

May the Lord give you peace.

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