“they shall name him” Matthew 1:23
The Gospel reading from Saint Matthew Chapter 1 includes four names that were used for Jesus.
Jesus is called the Messiah.
Verse 18 says, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” The word “Messiah” is Hebrew for “the anointed one”, the “chosen one,” in Greek the word is “Christ.” The people were eagerly waiting for a messiah. When John the Baptist began his ministry some though he might be the messiah who had at last arrived. We read in Saint John Chapter 1 Verse Verse 15 tells us that the people were “questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” John declares he is not the Christ, telling the crowd in the following verse, “one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” How will the Christ be recognized? How will they know that the Messiah has come? In Saint Luke Chapter 7 John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, are you the one who is to come or should we wait for another? In Chapter 7 Verses 22-23, Jesus answers, “‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
The people in John’s time were wondering whether he might be the Messiah; clearly, they were uncertain what the Messiah would be like. If we were looking today, what sort of person might we expect? If we were looking for signs that Messiah was at work today, what would we expect to see?
The angel calls Joseph “the Son of David,” a name that is later used for Jesus.
Jesus is from the family line of David, who had been king a thousand years previously, but while King David himself was a man who had flaws as well as qualities, the name “son of David,” was associated with powers David himself never possessed. In the Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we see people calling out to the “son of David” for healing. In Chapter 9 Verse 27, two blind men cry out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” In Chapter 15 Verse 22, the Canaanite woman cries out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” The son of David is someone who can perform miraculous deeds, the son of David is welcomed as someone who will bring a new kingdom. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” To be recognised as son of David was to be recognised as a king who could change the lives of individuals and who could change the life of the nation.
Do we believe in Jesus as the son of David? Have we confidence that he can change things? Have we confidence that he can change not just individual lives, but the world in which we live? The people who welcomed the son of David expected change, do we expect change?
Jesus itself is an important name.
The name “Jesus” was prophetic, in Saint Matthew Chapter 1 Verse 21, Joseph is told about the forthcoming birth of the child to Mary and is told, “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” His name comes from the Hebrew name “Yeshua”, a form of “Joshua”, meaning “to rescue” or “to deliver”. Jesus’ mission is expressed in his name, to be a saviour. How would people have imagined this new Joshua would rescue his people? How would he deliver them? Jesus has warned his friends on many occasions what was going to happen in Jerusalem, but they have not been able to accept that God would save his people in such a way.
When we think of Jesus how do we think of him? Is he a character in a story book? Is he a figure in a stained glass window? Is he a name from the past? Or is he Yeshua, the one who rescues and delivers us?
The forth name used is Emmanuel.
Saint Matthew Chapter 1 Verse 23 says, “they shall name him ‘Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.'” The people held God in such awe that they did not mention his name. When someone read the Scriptures in the synagogue, when they came to God’s name, Yahweh, the did not utter the word, instead they said “Adonai,” meaning “the Lord.” It showed the reverence in which they held God, the holiness with which they regarded him Meetings with God were moments that inspired awe and terror. We think of the meeting of Moses with God in the book of Exodus Chapter 3, where God appears in the burning bush and tells Moses he is standing on holy ground, or the meetings of Moses with God on Mount Sinai, where Moses receives the Law and where the encounter is so profound that Moses’ face glows and he has to wear a veil when he meets the people. We think of Elijah’s meeting with God in the First Book of Kings Chapter 19, where God comes not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but as a still, small voice. When the people thought about Emmanuel, when they thought about “God with us,” they thought about awe and wonder and terror. Yet in Jesus, this powerful, awe-inspiring God comes to be one of us.
Have we a sense of such a God in our lives? Do we hold God in the reverence he deserves? When we think of God with us, is it a thought that makes ourselves and our world into something different? If we stopped and really thought, “God is here,” what difference would it make to us?
Messiah, son of David, Jesus, Emmanuel: four names for the one born in Bethlehem; four names for the one who will come as king at the end of the ages.