By Jane Williams
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Eight days after his birth, Luke’s gospel tells us, the child Jesus was circumcised and named, according to the usual custom. Matthew’s gospel tells us that the name was given to Joseph in his angelic dream, not just as a piece of useful information, but as reassurance and confirmation of the costly sacrifice the angel is asking of Joseph: to protect and nurture Mary and the child that is not his.
A name is symbolically such a powerful thing: it shapes character and people’s response to its bearer. In the Bible, it is even more significant, particularly when the one named is God. When God tells Moses his name (Ex. 3:14), he is giving Moses an authoritative commission, and admitting Moses into a profound degree of intimacy — to know the name of God.
The naming of Jesus deepens both the intimacy and the commission. “Jesus” is a human name, unlike “I am who I am.” It carries meaning and promise, of God’s presence and action, but most strikingly, it brings that into the human family; the child who bears this name is one of us, daring us to see the depths of God’s commitment to us.
At this name, demons tremble, disease departs, every knee in heaven and earth bows. We pray this name in every time of joy and extremity, and as our daily bread: Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us. God, the maker of all things, has drawn us close, assuring us that we are known because Jesus is for us.
Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
All Saints Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
The Diocese of Isi mbano (Church of Nigeria)