Blessed with a Name. Jay’s sermon for Name of Jesus Sunday

Luke 2:15-21

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


Today, aside from being New Year’s Day, of course, is the day in the church year traditionally observed as the Name of Jesus Sunday. And we heard why in the Gospel reading.  Luke says that Jesus was circumcised and named on his eighth day of life, as would have been the custom for any Jewish boy. Today is eight days after Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, so it makes sense to read this portion of the Gospel today.

It is a day for remembering that Jesus was very much a part of the religion and culture of his parents. He didn’t stand outside of these things. He wasn’t born to create a new religion or but in fact was born into one particular place and time for the healing of all the nations.  And on the eighth day, he was given one particular name, just like any one of us.

Now, when my children received their names, there was very little ceremony or fanfare about it, but it was a weighty moment. I remember standing in the hospital delivery room, minutes after my first daughter’s birth, and a nurse came in with a clipboard and asked, “So, does she have a name?” I think our first response was, “just give us a few minutes.” This is a big responsibility, choosing one name out of the seemingly infinite possibilities to give to a child for the rest of her life, or at least until she’s old enough to pick a better one for herself. How do you choose?

We chose family names. Beatrice and Ruth were names of two of her great-grandmothers. Malena Pearl is named for my grandmother Pearl and also two relatives named Malena, whom we found on distant branches of our family tree. Malena, which comes from Mary Magdalene, also remembers the first apostle of Jesus, the first one to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection.

I’m curious about your name stories. Why did your parents give you your name? If you are a parent, why did you give your child the name you did. Would anyone like to share a story about a name?


These stories point to the blessing involved with choosing a name. Naming another person is to bless them.

With this in mind, though, we can turn to the Gospel today and ask how do you choose a name for the Son of God? How can you give a name to the One who blesses us?

There’s a children’s book written by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso I like very much that asks this question. I’d like to share it with you this morning. It’s called In God’s Name.

After God created the world all living things on earth were given a name. The plants and the trees, the animals and the fish, and each person, young and old, had a special name. But no one knew the name for God. So each person searched for God’s name. The farmer whose skin was dark like the rich brown earth from which all things grew called God Source of Life. The girl whose skin was as golden as the sun that turned night into day called God Creator of Light. The man who tended sheep in the valley called God Shepherd. The tired soldier who fought too many wars called God Maker of Peace. The artist who carved figures from the earth’s hard stone called God My Rock.

Sometimes the people who called God by different names were puzzled. They said, “Every living thing has a single name: the marigold, pansy and lily; the oak tree, sequoia and pine. God must have a single name that is greater and more wonderful than all other names.”

Each person thought his name for God was the greatest. Each person thought her name for God was the very best. The farmer who called God Source of Life said, “This is the true name for God.” The girl who called God Creator of Light insisted, “This is the most splendid name for God.” The shepherd, soldier and artist believed they each had the perfect name for God.

But no one listened. Least of all, God.

And so each person kept searching for God’s name.

The woman who cared for the sick called God Healer. The slave who was freed from bondage called God Redeemer. The grandfather whose hair was white with the years called God Ancient One. The grandmother who was bent with age and sorrow called God Comforter. The young woman who nursed her newborn son called God Mother. The young man who held the hand of his baby daughter called God Father. And the child who was lonely called God Friend. All the people called God by different names. They tried to tell one another that their name was the best, the only name for God, and that all other names were wrong.

But no one listened. Least of all, God.

And so each person kept searching for God’s name.

Then one day the person who called God Ancient One and the one who called God Friend, the one who called God Mother and the one who called God Father—all the people who called God by a different name came together. They knelt by a lake that was clear and quiet like a mirror, God’s mirror. Then each person who had a name for God looked at the others who had a different name. They looked into God’s mirror and saw their own faces and the faces of all the others.

And they called out their names for God—Source of Life—Creator of Light—Shepherd—Maker of Peace—My Rock—Healer—Redeemer—Ancient One—Comforter—Mother—Father—Friend—all at the same time. At that moment, the people knew that all the names for God were good, and no name was better than another.

Then all at once their voices came together and they called God One.

Everyone listened. Most of all, God.


The name that Mary and Joseph, and the angel before them, gave to the baby at Christmas was Yeshua, or Jesus, which means “one who saves.” This tells us something very important about who he is. Most of all, it tells us who he is for us.

So maybe this day, the name of Jesus Sunday, isn’t as much about naming God as it is God naming us. Maybe it’s like God’s mirror to show us who we really are. The name of Jesus is given to us. We are ones who are saved. We are ones who are recipients of God’s saving grace through Jesus.

Not only that, but we bear the name of Jesus for the world as the body of Christ. God’s saving work is done through us, as we encounter a world in need and neighbors in need of hope or comfort or forgiveness. This name Jesus tells us who we are and what we are to be about, this new year and always.

Today is New Year’s Day. And today we remember that we are children of God who are blessed with the name Jesus.


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