Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 102; 148, Isaiah 33:17-22, Revelation 22:6-11, 18-20, Luke 1:57-66
Many cultures believe names – and knowledge of names – contain power. In some cultures a person has two names: one for public use, and a private, secret name known to a few or maybe only the one who bestowed it. In other cultures, a person acquires a new name upon completion of a rite of passage into adulthood. Within our communities, we are concerned with protecting “our good name.”
As Christians we don’t revere names as magical, but we do recognize the importance of identity. Christenings and confirmations are powerful examples.
In today’s reading from Luke, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth follows the instructions of an angel and names her son “John” (or more accurately the Hebrew Yôḥanan meaning “God is gracious”). Doing so defies the Jewish tradition of naming the child for a family member. People are so upset about this break in tradition that they demand a response from the child’s mute father Zechariah … but he stuns them when he confirms his wife’s choice by agreeing with her – in writing. This act frees him from years of silence that began because he didn’t believe the angel who prophesied John’s birth to him.
This act of naming – like John the Baptist himself – signifies a change in tradition. It shatters expectations. John defines his own wild, confusing, holy identity as the herald of the messiah.
As Christians, we too are in the business of defying society to forge identities in Christ.
That statement may seem dramatic in a predominantly Christian country like the U.S., but cultural Christianity and life in Christ are separate issues. Jesus fish magnets, Christian radio stations, and Christian dating websites are a sign that in some ways Christianity has become identified more with a consumer brand than a faith identity. Some Christians avoid calling themselves “Christian” not because they are ashamed of Christ, but because of negative associations with scandal and hypocrisy.
Even within the Christian community, we struggle against our own deeply ingrained traditions and expectations to seek the true heart of Christ, and are met with resistance and outright hostility from fellow Christians. When we have the courage to defy expectation and define our own names, our new voices – like Zechariah’s voice – can claim the name “Christian” for positive, meaningful, grace-filled ways.
Comfort: God does not name you as the world names you.
Challenge: With a small group, read and discuss The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.
Prayer: God of Peace, name me as your servant. Amen.
Discussion: What does your name mean to you?
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