Sermon – 1 January 2006

The imaginative hymn that we have just sung (Brian Wren’s Bring Many Names) is a salutary reminder that one name was never enough for our God. Whether we think of God’s doings in the Hebrew scriptures or in the Greek testament to Jesus Christ, we find that God is known by many, many names.

A name is fundamental to who we are. My own name, Kelvin, tells me something about where I come from. It is a reminder that I’ve roots in Glasgow where the Kelvin river flows. My mother was from that city, or to be more accurate from Clydebank, just a bit further down the Clyde. It also reminds me of the golfing passion of my father who was following a then well known golfer called Kelvin in the 1960s.

A name can say it all. It says who we are and can say where we have come from. Now, on this day, the first day of the New Year, we have a feast day – the Feast of the Holy Name. What does the name of Jesus Christians tell us about who he is and where he came from? And as people still known by his name, what does that say about who we are and where we come from?

Well, Joseph and Mary named the child Jesus. Luke tells us that they were following what the Angel Gabriel told them to call him. Well, who argues with angels?

And the name they gave him we pronounce as Jesus. In all likelihood, the way the would have said it would have been more like “yeshua”. This give a bit of a clue as to its roots. Jesus is called Yeshua – which people have always known through the very similar Joshua.

In the ancient world, a name meant everything. In a story, your name would indicate your character. And Joshua was the one who saved the people.

Jesus was the one who saved the people too. Saved us by coming amongst us. Saved us by becoming one with us. Saved us by sharing everything. Not all Christian would agree with me here, but I know I am saved because God came to earth and joined in, not by anything that anyone else ever did.

It is God’s presence with us which we still celebrate. There is a little Christmas every time God’s people meet in the name of Jesus. God is amongst us in a special way.

Of course, as I said at the beginning, one name was never going to be enough for this baby. Others names have always been given to him. I’ve been preaching about some of them recently – Emmanuel, Suffering Servant, King.

It is a good meditation for anyone. How many of the names of Jesus, or God can you bring to mind.

Some people find the idea of meditation quite hard – there are all kinds of ways of praying. Prayer is fundamentally enjoying being in God’s presence. One of the ways that Christians have found of coming into God’s presence is to call to mind one after another the names which God is known by.

Interestingly, the same custom is known in Islam – on the prayer beads that you sometimes see Muslims with, each bead represents one of the names of God and you pray by remembering them.

We need to seek ways of meeting God in people of other faiths. It is important Godly business for us as some of God’s people. The world needs it. It is world business.

How about that meditation as a starter. Sometime during the year that is to come, I’d love to sit down with a group of Christians and Muslims and simply recall together the ways in which we have named God.

The business of giving Jesus many names started during his own lifetime.

Indeed, he encouraged it. “Who do you say that I am?” he famously asked people when they started to muddle him up with his cousin John Baptist and Elijah the prophet of old.

At the very end of his life, the question was thrown back at him. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked him – keen to establish once and for all his identity.

Our name is key to our own sense of identity. Indeed, the right to be known by one’s own name is now thought of as a human right, and part of the UN declaration on the rights of the child. Young and old, we have a right to an identity.

For all kinds of reasons, the year that is past is one in which I’ve had to think about who I really am. Who am I? Who am I really?

And I know more about who I am after the year that is passed than I did on New Year’s Day last year, and maybe that is something we should all aim at for the year that is ahead.

And so who am I?

Well, I know I am loved. Loved by God. And I know that love is for everyone.

It is fundamental to my own identity to be someone who wants to share that good news. The child in the manger whom the angel named as Jesus before he was born; whom his parents called Yeshua as he ran around in the streets of Nazareth, whom his disciples called Rabbi – teacher; whom the early church called Messiah – Christ the saviour; that is the person whom I know and name as source of my life and source of God’s inclusive love.

It is Jesus Christ, the child in the manger who is for us both Saviour and friend, both prophet and priest and king.

The Wonderful Counsellor is born. The Mighty God is here. The Prince of Peace is born.

Bring many names! Hail and hosanna! Bring many names today.



  1. Anonymous says

    Not sure where this comes from but I think it goes rather well with your sermon:

    Name this Child

    Warm upon a maiden’s breast
    A Jewish baby had been fed;
    Reverently they gathered round:
    ‘What’s his name?’ the shepherds said.

    Joseph placed his rough-hewn hand
    Upon the smooth and tender head:
    ‘After Joshua we shall call him’,
    ‘A grand old name!’ the shepherds said.

    ‘Names’ said Joseph, ‘must have meaning:
    Bethlehem means The House of Bread;
    Joshua means The Lord shall save us’.
    ‘Glory to God!’ the shepherds said.

    Mary lifted gentle Joshua,
    Laid him in his manger-bed:
    ‘Here lies peace for all the earth’,
    ‘The very words!’ the shepherds said.

    ‘Sleep, my Joshua, Hebrew baby;
    From Bethlehem shall the world be fed;
    But what strange name will the Gentiles call him?’
    ‘Jesus Christ’ the Wise Men said.

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