What's in a Name?

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"Name this child."  

Its a startling question, if you really think about it.  And the priest said it with such authority.

"Name this child." 

"Evelyn Mae Hermerding," my wife and I responded. 

I know we named her when she was born.  We had it written on her birth certificate and everything.  But this seemed much more...official, or solemn, or something.  There we were, standing up in front of the whole church, ready for our baby girl's baptism.  And the priest took the baby from her mother's arms in order for God's grace to wash over her, like water on the forehead.  Evelyn Mae Hermerding.  She's named after one of my favorite writers, Evelyn Underhill.  A name is a powerful thing.  How much of her future will be determined by it? 

Which leads me to reflect: when you name something, you know it.  You understand it.  You fit it within your worldview of describable things, of things that have a place, a part, in your universe.  A name is a powerful thing.  It was the responsibility given to Adam, to name the animals.  The job started out strong with names like hippopotamus and rhinoceros.  But by the end of the day fatigue had set in and he was like, "ox"..."ant". 

For the task of naming this child born in a manger, God Himself gave the name to the angel, who then gave it to Joseph, who then gave it to Jesus.  Jean Danielou says that names given by God in both the Old and New Testaments always "express both the person and the mission that is being given.” [1] The Angel says, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus means savior, and Jesus is savior. And we, who have had the water wash over our foreheads, are called a name: Christian.  Little Christ.  A name, I daresay, which is a high calling indeed. Perhaps we can resolve to live up to that incredible name in this New Year. 

[1] Danielou, The Infancy Narratives, 47.

Posted by The Rev. Joe Hermerding with

Getting Ready for Sunday

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Sing to the Lord a new song. ­––Psalm 96:1

Today the whole earth sings and shouts for joy because the Lord is come. Heaven and nature sing, because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11) in the birth of Jesus. We rejoice, because, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (Titus 3:4–5). In Jesus, the grace and goodness and love of God flames out, like light shining in darkness. When the light of Christ falls on us, it both reveals the devices and desires of our death-bound hearts and also shows us the way to life. So, today, we—who once walked in darkness but have now seen this great light—are filled with joy. “For unto us a child is born” (Isaiah 9:6), even “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” the same one “who gave himself for us” (Titus 2:13–14).

 “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us.” These words from the Letter to Titus are very fitting for Christmas Day. They come from one of the readings appointed for today: Titus 2:11–14. This passage is not as well-known as the story of the Nativity in Luke’s Gospel, but it expresses the whole meaning of that story, like a nutshell in which the whole Gospel is written in tiny script.

Jesus is the one “who gave himself for us” (Titus 2:14). In the man Jesus, the God of Israel gives himself for us. Our Creator gives himself for us in Jesus. The Word became flesh. Stop and wonder for a moment before this magnum mysterium, this great mystery.

“Who gave himself for us.” Titus expresses the mystery of the Incarnation in language picked up by Bernard of Clairvaux in a lovely passage:

‘What shall I render to the Lord for all that he has given me?’ In his first work he gave me myself; in his second work he gave me himself; when he gave me himself, he gave me back myself. Given, and regiven, I owe myself twice over. What can I give to God in return for himself? Even if could give him myself a thousand times, what am I to God? (On Loving God 5.15)

In giving himself to us in Jesus, the Lord gives us new life. The Lord gives us life in creating us, and gives us new life in the work of new creation in Christ Jesus, “who gave himself for us” (Titus 2:14). The Lord gives us ourselves, and when we had squandered ourselves, gives us back ourselves. Consequently, as St Bernard puts it, “Given, and regiven, I owe myself twice over.” Not only does our very life come as a gift from God, but the restoration of our life also comes as God’s gift. We have been given and regiven. We owe ourselves twice over.

What more can we do than to give ourselves to the One who gave himself for us? What can we do better than to praise our God and Savior? Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:1–2).

Posted by The Rev. Chris Yoder with

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.