What’s in a Name?

Despite Juliet’s romantic musings, names do actually say quite a lot. They carry stories, hopes, and dreams. Some parents name their children after other family members they want to remember and honor. My mother named me after her mother – Sarah. Even though I never met my grandmother, part of her is always with me in my name.

A friend of mine shared with me the story of her youngest child’s coming into the world. While Sofia was pregnant, doctors found serious health complications in the fetus’ heart and lungs, and they suggested that it would be better for the mother and the child if she were to terminate the pregnancy. Sofia and her husband thought and prayed about that news. They decided that terminating the pregnancy wasn’t a choice they could make. They decided instead to pray daily for God to heal the baby, so they waited and hoped and prayed. When Sofia delivered the baby tests were run, and the doctors found none of the health problems they had identified during the pregnancy. The child was completely healthy. Sofia and her husband thanked God, and the name that they chose for their youngest son tells the story of God’s faithfulness.

Names carry great meaning in the Bible, too, especially in the prophesies we hear during the season of Advent. In the seventh chapter of Isaiah, King Ahaz hears the name Immanuel (God with us) spoken about the child who will be born, to become Israel’s savior, and as Christians understand him, the savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

This naming is a moment of God’s grace to King Ahaz. When the Lord first spoke to Ahaz, he was non-compliant. The Lord gave Ahaz a blank check, to ask for a sign to prove God’s faithfulness. And Ahaz said, “Nah, I won’t ask; I won’t test the Lord.” Ahaz stumbled on an issue of familiarity. It was safe to say I won’t test the Lord; that meant staying in the realm of the familiar, and it was in the law, after all. God was inviting Ahaz into a blessing through the unfamiliar. Who else has heard God say, “You can ask me for ANYTHING, and I’ll do it”?

Although Ahaz was afraid to accept God’s invitation, God showed Ahaz a sign anyway:

The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel (God with us).

God With Us – this is the good news of Christmas. Each year we are invited to receive this blessing anew – God With Us. Our challenge is to recognize that God With Us is still a great mystery full of unfamiliarity every day. Christmas is a very familiar time, but we all experience our unexpected happenings during Advent and Christmas, too. How has God With Us come to you? How will you be alert and prepared when God calls you into the unfamiliar?

Sofia and her husband trusted in God through months of the unfamiliar. They did what they knew how to do – they prayed. When their baby was born healthy, they knew how to thank God. They knew exactly what to name him. “Our baby showed us that God was with us,” Sofia told me, “That’s why we named him Jesús.”

May you experience God With Us, today and always.

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