The Name of Jesus: January 1, 2006.
Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11
I want to take as my starting point a quotation from Marty Stortz's new book, A World according to God. In her chapter on baptism, she writes, The most important name conferred in baptism is not the family name ... but the name "Child of God." With baptism we receive a new identity, an identity that does not come with passport or ID card but with relationships. Within the horizon of baptism who we are depends decisively on whose we are, and baptism signals new relationships of belonging to God and to Christ. (Marty Stortz, A World according to God [San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004], 40)
We all have different names, and those different names define in different ways. We name ourselves through our relationships as mother, daughter, friend, godparent. We name ourselves professionally as pastor, teacher, mechanic, contractor. And we name ourselves by interest and hobby as athlete, reader, quilter, cook. All of these names are important in how we see ourselves and how we see each other; but, as Stortz points out, only one name strikes at the very core of who we are, and only one name is foundational for our identity, the name "Christian." This more than any other proclaims to the world who we are, and this more than all the others put together gives us our worth and our purpose.
How is this illustrated in today's readings? First, let's look at the Old Testament text. There are very few readings from the book of Numbers in the church lectionary, so the inclusion of this passage is certainly important. In this reading, "name" is bound up with "blessing," and, indeed, the LORD makes clear to Moses that the name of the LORD is one and the same with God's blessing. In the act of the priest blessing the people with the blessing of the LORD, they also receive the name of the LORD. In bestowing upon the Israelites God's blessing, God also gave them the name of God's people. The Israelites are who they are because they are God's chosen people; and they are blessed and become a blessing to others in and through that fundamental name. Therefore we who stand in this tradition also are blessed with the name of God and also have been made God's people through the bestowing of God's name. After all, it is in the name of the Triune God that we are baptized and marked with the cross of Christ, both physical signs of the name we bear, the name that makes us who we are.
In the Gospel text, we read the story of how Jesus receives his name, the divine name preordained while he was yet in Mary's womb. Much can be said about the name Jesus itself, but what I would rather emphasize is the way this specific name Jesus emphasizes his humanity and his particularity. When we celebrate the central mystery of our faith, the incarnation, we proclaim the God who truly became human, not just a God who looked like a human. When we worship Jesus Christ, we are asserting our belief that God did not just put on an indiscriminate human costume and dwell among us as one masquerading as a real person, did not assume the guise of a human being and pretend to be human all the while maintaining God's divine nature untouched and uncontaminated by human nature. Instead, we confess that God chose to become one of us, a real live flesh-and-blood human being, and that one was Jesus--a genuine, individual boy born from a human womb, a boy who grew into a man, a man who suffered and died a human death. The incarnation was real, not God's playacting, not an illusion. This one man who walked the dusty roads of Galilee, who changed water into wine, who healed the sick and raised the dead, who wept in the garden of Gethsemane and was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem, this one man is our Lord and Savior; and because of his humanity, our humanity has been redeemed.
There is such an abundance of rich themes in today's texts that perhaps the most difficult problem will be choosing one and resisting the impulse to preach on too much! For my reflection, then, I want to pick out the Galatians text for special focus, and the theme of adoption. For more and more people in today's society, adoption is no longer a theological category but a fact of life. Increasing numbers of individuals and couples are choosing adoption for a wide variety of reasons, not simply because they cannot conceive children biologically. Thus we find that in most communities adoption is no longer seen as "the next-best thing" to having "your own" children. This outdated interpretation of adoption does not do justice to the ontological reality that is created when a child is adopted into a new family. As all of us who are adopted know, we do not have "real" parents and "adoptive" parents; our adoptive parents are our real parents, although some of us have a little information about our biological mothers and fathers, too. For most of us, there is no question who our "real" families are, even though sometimes we might go through periods of questioning or wondering about our biological families.
Adoption, then, is one place where Christianity and culture come together very nicely and complement each other well. Those who adopt and who are not part of a Christian community might well be pleasantly surprised to hear that, two thousand years before they were even born, early Christians were articulating the reality of their new family that had been created through Christ using the language of adoption. And today, just as they have made a new child their son or daughter for life, with ties of love that are stronger than mere flesh and blood, so too have Christians been made children of God through adoption, again through ties of love stronger even than life or death. Similarly, a Christian who has grown up all her life hearing passages that talk about our adoption into God's family might well find that she understands those passages in a much more profound way once she adopts a child of her own. Those of us who are adopted resonate strongly with the texts that promise us adoption into God's family: we know the depth of the new identity adoption gives us.
Kristin Chenowith, singer and actress, recently wrote a magazine article about being adopted. She talks about emotions most of us who are adopted have experienced at some point in our lives: recognizing that we don't physically look like our parents, realizing that we don't have the same talents as our parents. Kristin, for example, is 4'11" and blond, while the rest of her family is tall and dark-haired. She also has an exceptional operatic voice, while no one else in her family can sing. Sometimes people who are adopted go through periods of feeling isolated or alone when confronted with these differences. Do I really belong in this family? Where did I get this nose? Why do I hate sports, when everyone else in my family is athletic?
But here in these moments of doubt and confusion is another place where the gospel message of belonging, acceptance, and inclusion into God's family really hits home and speaks a word of grace to all of us. What makes us a Christian family is not physical resemblance or shared likes and dislikes or anything inherent in us at all. Instead, God has made us God's family through God's unconditional love for us in Christ Jesus. We are a family because God calls us beloved sons and daughters and because we call God our beloved Father. And those divine bonds of familial love and tenderness are unbreakable.
Kristin ends her article this way: "Last September I gave my first solo concert at Carnegie Hall. Amazingly, it sold out. As I walked onto the stage, people leapt to their feet. I thought about all the women who'd stood there before me: Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters. I looked into the footlights and saw my parents just beaming. I performed a surprise song I'd written for my father, called 'The Ride Home' about the countless ballet classes and piano lessons he'd driven me to and from. Though my father is not a crier, when I finished the song he stood up and blew me a kiss--and I saw big, fat tears rolling down his face. I remember thinking, if that isn't my father, I don't know who is" (Kristin Chenowith, "Getting over being 'the adopted one,'" Glamour [September 2005], 241).
All of us who are Christians know that feeling. When we open the Bible and read story after story of all God has done for us in Jesus Christ, how much God loved us and continues to love us, in spite of our faults and sinfulness, is it any wonder that we, too, think: If this is not family, what is? KJL
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|Author:||Largen, Kristin Johnston|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
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