I find it interesting that you can usually identify a person with a certain period of time just by their name. Of course some names are being recycled from generations gone by, but still you don’t see too many kids called Myrtle or Horace any more. I had relatives named Tennessee Mary, who was Aunt Tennie to us, and Uncle Pleas, whose given name was Pleasant James. Could be their names were decade-related, but in this case it was also a regional thing. For the most part, though, gone are the days of Dick and Jane and their little sister Sally. If you don’t know what school book I’m referring to, I’ve just dated myself. And evidently there was a popular World War II song about the time I came along. Something about passing on the street when who should I meet, but Linda. My dad always was a sucker for catchy tunes.
If you’ve spent any time reading the Bible you know names are important. How many times have you stumbled through those long lists of parents and their children—the dreaded “begats”. And if it wasn’t hard enough keeping track of them all, there are instances when God changed people’s names: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel. In the New Testament Paul was Saul and Joseph from Cyprus was known in the early church as Barnabas, Son of Encouragement.
Thinking of Christmas, after the startling announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary and Joseph, I would think choosing a name for this unexpected child would be just one more of the many things on their To Do List. But God had everything covered. And I mean everything. The how: the Holy Spirit will come upon you. The when: in the fullness of time. Even the where: Bethlehem in Judea. And of course, the who: a child, fully human and fully God. And perhaps unarguably the most important is why. Why was all of this necessary? Because He shall save His people from their sins. And because of that, “you shall call His name Jesus.”
Why not Joseph or one of the other popular names parents were choosing in Israel at the time? Because every time they said Jesus’ name, God wanted people to know something about His Son. He was the Savior of the World. He had been sent by His father, God, for a particular purpose—to fulfill all the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and to save not only the Jewish people, but all mankind from the control of Satan. To save us from our sins. That’s what Jesus means. The name Jesus is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua, “the Lord is salvation.”
Actually, this Christmas baby had three names, each a title signifying his role in the unfolding history of mankind. He was announced to the shepherds as a “savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The savior, Yeshua, the name selected by God Himself (Luke 1:30-31). Christ, the Messiah or Anointed One, a descendent of Israel’s King David, fulfilling all the predictions of the ancient prophets (Luke 1:32-33). And Lord, the incarnate Son of God, existing from eternity past (Micah 5:2).
Names are important and most parents take great care in choosing the name their child will have. That’s what God, the Father, did. This Christmas rejoice in the One who was born “a savior, who is Christ the Lord” and remember that there is “no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).