What’s in a name?

Published 8:31 am Sunday, December 25, 2022

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Back in the early nineties, a college baseball star burst onto the scene. This son of a Mexican immigrant went on to become an All-American in college and had a meteoric rise to the Major Leagues. Nomar Garciaparra was a six-time All-star who won two batting titles. His career in the majors lasted 15 years, which is nice. 

But for injuries, he was on a Hall of Fame trajectory that sadly curtailed before he could finish strongly. Today, he might be best remembered for marrying the woman some regard as the greatest female soccer player ever: Mia Hamm.

Years after he made it to the majors and became an All-star, Garciaparra revealed that his first name, Nomar, was actually his father’s name spelled backward. Why? His father, Ramon, was a first generation Mexican immigrant settled in California. 

He had realized how tough life could be for a young child of a recent immigrant. He knew that being born there, his son might have a slightly fairer chance in life. What he wanted to spare his son of, though, were the blatant and stark realities he himself had already encountered while named “Ramon.” 

Names are important, aren’t they? I have a friend who hears Matthew 1: 18-25 reacts with a question: what’s in a name? Actually, William Shakespeare first made that question famous. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” 

His point was that who you are is more important than what you are called. Unless you were named in the Bible. Then, your name told who you were. Matthew gives us real names in the genealogy of Jesus. These names tell us about his lineage and how God got us to this moment of Christmas, and in return we mostly ignore them. 

We say that these genealogies of Jesus in two New Testament gospels are boring. We say they don’t matter. If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it dozens of times. Some names we are familiar with. Fourteen generations times three, Matthew uses names to tell us how we got to Jesus.

In this passage we find Mary and Joseph. These are names familiar to nearly all. Joseph sought to put Mary away quietly to save her name. Instead, the angel explained things and gave Jesus another name. The name above all names, Emmanuel: God with us.

Names can have power when we know the stories behind them. Life works best when we call one another by name. It takes time and investment in order to know each other as we should. Likewise, our faith in God through Christ needs all of the nurture we can invest. Jesus knows our names. But do we really know His? 

We celebrate Jesus’ birth because God was entering into Creation in an unprecedented way. God was coming to live among us in order to embody a new covenant that would save humanity. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. 

Dave Abramson, in his book titled 52 Hebrew Names Every Christian Should Know, points out that we all have a name. Our name identifies us, and for some of us it defines our credibility and even our reputation. But he reminds us that the scriptures say there is only one name that can shine light in the darkness, bring hope to the hopeless and heal the brokenhearted. 

That’s what’s in a name. When it’s the name of our Messiah, our Savior and Lord. What’s in a name? When it’s Jesus, it can be everything. Because we can keep our hope in Jesus. 

His name gives us the reasons for our hope. God didn’t forget the people of biblical times. God hasn’t forgotten you or me, either. This is a narrative of surprising and unexpected events and suggests a God of unexpected actions. 

Our story in Matthew demonstrates an extreme amount of trust in God. Perhaps this is a season where your life is calling on you to trust God, as well. Maybe this Christmas, you are celebrating a gift from God that you never could have expected. 

Jesus Christ was simply the biggest surprise from a God whose biblical story is full of the unexpected. Maybe this Advent, you or I will finally get to know Jesus better. 

This Advent, maybe your hope or mine could be rooted in a faith in a God who has proven capable time after time of doing the unexpected. Just when it was needed the most.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.