Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“The Name of Jesus”
Luke 2: 15-21
January 1, 2017
The Name of Jesus (New Year’s Day)
Names tell us volumes about a family’s hopes and dreams and memories.
Quite honestly, I have never been wild about my name, Wilbert, so when our first son came on the scene we named him Sebastian. That name bears gravitas here at Holy Trinity, a place known internationally for our Bach Vespers. It would be logical for you to think that Dagmar and I named our firstborn after Johann Sebastian Bach but I must disappoint you. When Dagmar was pregnant, we were watching an international track meet, the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway, on July 17, 1979. Sebastian kicked inside Dagmar for the first time just as the British middle distance runner Sebastian Coe kicked in the mile run, breaking the world record; hence the name Sebastian. And, yes, I must confess, dear Holy Trinity, we named our son after an athlete, not after a certain German musician.
When we visited my Grandma Miller so she could meet her new great-grandson, she was not at all amused by his name, Sebastian: “Isn’t Wilbert, your name and your father’s and your grandfather’s, perfectly fine? You pastors give your children the stupidest names!”
By the way, we named our next son, Caspar…Guess what Grandma Miller thought of that? You guessed it: she wept, but surprisingly, this time, she wept tears of joy. Never mind that his classmates might bully him with taunts of “Caspar the Friendly Ghost.” The name Caspar, you see, was her father’s name as it was Dagmar’s great-grandfather’s.
Today, we give thanks for another name, the name of God’s son, Jesus. This name was not plucked from a three-dollar name book purchased at the Nazareth grocery counter. Our Savior’s name came from heaven. Even before the child was conceived in Mary’s womb, an angel informed Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus…” The name Jesus is rich in meaning: he shall save his people from their sins.
If you learn a person’s name, such knowledge inevitably draws you closer. “Hello, Jane. Good morning, Ernie.” People understand that when you call them by name, you have taken the time to know them, to care for them. They will likely want to know your name, too, and to learn more about you.
Knowing one another’s names creates community. We can spend years and years deliberating on how to make our congregation flourish, pouring over sophisticated studies, but I guarantee you: one of the most effective tools for creating a vibrant church community is getting to know one another by name. I suggest we all take the time to learn at least one person’s name at the passing of the peace this morning; make it your New Year’s resolution to meet a new person every Sunday. I know it will stretch some of our comfort zones, especially those of us who are introverts, but learning one another’s names will make our community friendlier and livelier.
One of the finest compliments I have received since becoming your pastor came on Friday afternoon. The mother and father of a bride-to-be rang our bell and wanted to see the sanctuary where their daughter will be married in June. They had never met a single one of us. In a matter of moments, though, she commented on how friendly Holy Trinity is and how she had felt rebuffed by other New York churches that simply wanted to discuss pricey wedding fee structures and elaborate wedding policies. Their good feelings had nothing to do with our claiming to be a friendly church in our bulletin, not an iota to do with a long-range plan we devised to make our church grow. It did have everything to do with Bonnie, our office manager, welcoming her with a smile; Serge, our property manager, graciously showing her the church; Donald, our cantor, telling the family what wonderful music they can have at their wedding. This proud mother and father were called by name and treated with kindness. That’s how names work and the power they bear for the vibrant life of Christ’s church.
Yes indeed, how we use names speaks volumes. Did you know that your hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, includes Luther’s Small Catechism in the very back? Please turn to page 1160, to the Ten Commandments. The Second Commandment: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.” Luther understood the gift of having God’s name on our lips and the power it invokes. In his explanation of the Second Commandment Luther writes: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.”
What a priceless gift to be entrusted with God’s name, a name we can call upon in every moment of life, in good times and in crisis, to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks.
While most of you probably don’t remember it, there was a moment when you gained a totally new dimension as your name was intricately woven with God’s life-giving name. These wondrous words were spoken to you at your baptism, “Name, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Your family and friends in Christ stood at your side as water flowed down your face and God’s beautiful name brightened everything about you and everything that was to come in your life and even in your death.
As you walk around town today, remember always that your name is delightfully intertwined with God’s name. And never forget that all the people sitting near you at worship this morning are filled with God’s good name as well. And finally, as a special gift for you throughout this New Year: always call to mind that this breathtaking place is richly cloaked in God’s name, Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.