Nativity of John the Baptist 2018
“What is in a name?” Shakespeare wistfully wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Of course the irony is that these are the words of Juliet and it turns out that if the names are Montague and Capulet, a name means everything. So it is in the story of John the Baptist.
Think of all the startling events that make up the birth of Jon the Baptist. The archangel Gabriel visits Elizabeth and tells the barren older woman that she will give birth to a son. Her husband Zechariah is struck mute for not believing this word. The Virgin Mary comes for a visit and John leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth at the presence of Jesus in Mary. Yet, what really knocks their socks off is that John’s parents agreed on a name?
Names meant more then than today especially in the near Eastern culture of Jesus. In Judaism to this day, there is a naming ceremony that occurs on the eighth day of the child’s life when they are circumcised. A name was a big deal. We tend to look at names differently. We think of a name as a way to distinguish one’s self as a very thin slice of the other 7.5 billion people on the planet. As in look out Jane, I am throwing something at you.
But for the people of Jesus’ time and culture, a name was more of an identity than identifier. It expressed not just what you were called but who you were. When I said my name is Bob I would not just be saying this is what I answer to, but I would be sharing my Bobness with you. We have a sense of that from growing up. I would never call a friend of my parents by their first name. That would belie impossible equality in status. I still have a hard time calling my old teachers by their first name.
Indeed there is something holy and sacred in each name. Think how merely saying the names of Jesus and Mary are a powerful prayer. John the Baptist name held great weight. It was the name given to him by the angel. It was then just not his name but it also carried his mission and his destiny as the one “who would go before the Lord to prepare his way; to give the world knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” The name announced by the angel was to be his life.
It is a wonderful thing to have a name. At baptism, before you can even say if you want your child baptized, you are asked, “What name do you give your child?” For God is entering into a relationship with this person and it would be meaningless without a name. Think of the awesome responsibility of choosing a name. One minute it may be just sounds and syllables roaming in the air, and then your child has that name and it is at the center of our hearts – the culmination of pride, fear, love and blessing.
There is a destiny and a mission in your name just as there was for John the Baptist. Take a week and think about your name. Not just its meaning but how it reflects your purpose, your destiny, your mission. You name contains all that God knows of you: your holiness, your blessing and your beauty. Know your name and you will know yourself as God knows you.