Emmanuel: There is something in the Name

And they shall name him Emmanuel” (Matt. 1:23).

There is something in a name.  We at Trinity Baptist know a thing or two about the importance of names.  Recently, we heard a rumor that Trinity was changing its name to Grace Christian Church.  Although the rumor is not true, there is a church by that same name meeting in our building on Sundays after we meet for worship.  Their sign on our front lawn is pretty effective, to say the least.

Truth is, it would be hard for Trinity to change its name; and I fear if we ever did, it would not be in the best interest of the church.  Several years ago, there was another rumor in the church that we were going to take “Baptist” out of the name.  If we did that, then the entire identity of our little church would have likely changed too.

Yes, there is something in a name.  Even the Southern Baptist Convention has put together a task force to study the issue.  It will likely lead to some conflict; not much, I pray.

Early in my marriage, my wife and I would spend hours (traveling from Georgia to Florida to visit family) trying to figure out names for our future children.  There were my favorite girl names, like Catherine and Gina; and boy names, like Wolfgang, Woodrow, and (my Uncle’s awesomely Italian middle name) Onofio.  I can’t quite remember what my wife’s suggestions were.

Then there are mismatched names.  Consider the irony in the name of the Dove World Outreach church, whose pastor burned Qurans last year.  The name doesn’t match the actions.  After all, a dove is supposed to be a symbol of peace and reconciliation.

Whether it be the subject of rumor, a mismatched title, or a silly name game, there is something in a name.  Names provide meaning and identity, they communicate a history packed with importance.  Those names I suggested for our children did not come out of thin air; rather, each one has meaning and invokes a relative from our family (except Wolfgang, that was just my idea).

When God came to earth and became a human for our sake, God went by two different names in the earliest days.  The first was Jesus and the second one, Emmanuel.  Both have theological significance and communicate God’s intentions to redeem all of creation.

Jesus, a form of Joshua, means “savior.”  Emmanuel means “God with us.”  Both names announce to the world that the baby born in a manger so long ago is more than just a baby.  When Mary kissed the face of her child, she was truly kissing the very face of God.  The names mean that God became intimate with creation and embraced the world unto Himself.

Although John 3:16 is a critical text–one worthy of adorning poster boards at football games–John 3:17 connects the Christmas story with the mission of God: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

I’m not sure why so many Christians are quick to condemn the world.  As “little Christs” (as the word, Christian, implies), we too are called to give birth to God’s salvation in the darkest, least expected places in our community.  We need to go before kings and queens, presidents and representatives to proclaim Christ’s lordship, as well as to the mangers, inns, bars and brothels throughout our society to tell folks of the life-transforming Good News of Jesus’ salvation.

We are called, all of us, to remind the world that God’s “name is called Emmanuel, more wonderful than words can tell …Born in the darkness, He is Light; born in our weakness, He is might.”  We pray that God’s name will do all the talking and that our actions will bear witness to His lordship upon our life.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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