Sunday, December 22, 2013

What's in a name? God is with us and has come to save us!

Names are interesting things.  Let me give you an example.  I am a proud dog owner.  I have a beautiful 9 year-old Black Lab.  And, when I take him out for our daily walks around Boston, I often get stopped by others who want to pet him.  He is a happy go-lucky, friendly dog with a lot of energy.  People always ask his name.  My dog’s name is Bubba.  People are often a little surprised at his name.  They’ll ask, “Are you from the south?”  I guess it is a more common name there.  I’m not.  They’ll ask “Why ‘Bubba’?”  My response is usually, “Just look at him.  He’s just such a Bubba. It was the only name that fit.” I thought about bringing him to Mass today so you could see what I mean, but he would have just stolen the show. Such a Bubba!

We also sometimes have really interesting experiences with names.  This past summer I lead a pilgrimage to Ireland.  I am of Irish-American descent, so in addition to being a wonderful trip, it was also a chance to sort of connect with the roots of my family and our origins.  We traveled to some of the places that my family originally came from in Ireland during the journey.  When I came back, I wanted to do some additional research on my family genealogy – especially because I am names after my great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, who was born in Ireland.  I never knew him, he returned to the Lord before I was born, but there is always a connection when you carry a family name like that. 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.  For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened the connection to this relative who’s name I bear.

So, names are interesting and they tell us something about who we are.  You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family too. But, I was thinking about this notion of names because of our readings tonight.  We hear two very familiar names that we always associate with Christmas time. 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 names do a few things: first they are possessive (who are you, to whom do you belong, of the house of Washburn or Wheatley or Johnson, for example), secondly, they can say something about an individual, something about who they are, what they can do, what they are to mean to their people.

The first name we hear tonight 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.  This is no longer a God who loves us from afar; a God who communicates to us in many beautiful ways, but always through someone or something else.  Our God is now coming 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.

In the Gospel, the angel tells Joseph, through the name Jesus, 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 His presence will also do so much more – it will open the gates of salvation.  When we look at these names together we learn that what we’re really meant to hear is not just a trivial “what-will-we-call-Him” moment, but a powerful proclamation of what this birth will mean: It means that God will be with us and save us.

So, as we enter into these brief final days of our journey of Advent, let us be mindful of the true power of what we celebrate.  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.

God is not distant and far away. 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.  This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus.  God is with us and will save us. Come, let us adore Him!

May God give you peace.

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