Saturday, December 23, 2017
What's in a name?
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 about 17 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, “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 came from in Ireland which gave me a sense of my roots. When I came back, I did some additional research 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, l came across his baptismal record and was stunned to discover that he was born on September 1, 1879. My birthday is also September 1, just 89 years later. For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened my connection to this relative whose name I share.
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. So much of our Advent reflection is also about names; two names in particular. All through Advent, we hear the name Emmanuel. We’ve sung each week, “O come, Emmanuel.” And, of course, the second name is Jesus, for child whose birth we eagerly await.
When we look a little deeper, we realize that these two names have great meaning for us. The name Emmanuel 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 we have the name Jesus – the name that the angels tells Joseph that he is to give to this child. This name also tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means, “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 amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation for us. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear: that the birth of this child will mean that our God is with us and He is our salvation!
As we enter these final hours 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 also remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – the 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. So, what's in a name? Nothing less than our salvation!
May the Lord give you peace.