Lk 2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

“And he was called Jesus”- It doesn’t seem like a very dramatic conclusion to the nativity story. After all the angels and long journeys and wise men and shepherds, you might even say it seems downright anticlimactic.

Naming a child, after all, is for us at best a kind of release. For example, many children are named after a recently deceased relative; it can provide some closure as families work through grieving while honoring the relative. Or, like was the case for my son Kylen, a child might not have a name for hours, days, or even longer after being born and it is a release just to be able to finally settle on something that fits. But throughout the Bible, names and naming have a far greater significance than this.

We find a major clue in the word for the action itself: to call. Just as in English, the word call means both “to name someone or something” and “to beckon, request, or require something from someone.” When people are named in the Bible, “very often, the emphasis is… less on the fact that names are such and such, than on the fact that the bearers of the name actually are what the name  says about them” [kaleo, BDAG]. When your parents named you, they may have tried to find something with a positive meaning that they hoped you would live up to; but when God names you, when he calls you, the naming itself is effective in accomplishing it.

Counselors, colleges, even reemployment programs all like to talk about callings, taking the other meaning, as those things we do outside our homes to earn money to provide for family and maybe serve society. That is true in one sense; I am called as a student, a researcher, a writer, a teacher, a father, and husband. And god undoubtedly calls us to all those places. But our new name in baptism, the one we so often ignore is Christian- little Christ-. God calls us into that identity through baptism, not just in the hope that we will become Christians but in the same way he spoke “light” in the beginning and there was light.

In the text from Galatians, Paul writes that “God sent his Son… in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Gal. 4:4-5) The one named by God “Jesus”- savior- provides us with means to receive our new name: daughters and sons of the king.

Anyone who’s ever been part of an adoption, particularly an interracial or international one, understands the profound significance of this identity. An adopted child of course never loses the genetic and cultural identity they are born with entirely, but when you are adopted, you become 100% part of a new family- they are your forever home. It is not: “This is my adopted daughter” or “These are my adopted parents”- you belong to them and they belong to you completely.

So when the Bible says God took on or adopted flesh, it doesn’t mean he put on a costume. It means he made humanity his forever home. And in doing so, he gave us his name as our own. My nephew Jeremiah even though I somehow doubt his parents in Uganda shared the name, is a Stratton. In one of the most important passages for Jews of the entire Hebrew Bible, we heard God command “You shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” And the text continues: “So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:22-27).God makes it clear here: when he adopts us and calls us his, it is not only a sign but a promise- “I will bless them.” But in doing so, he also calls us to do something. To find out what that something is, we turn back to the gospel reading.

There, almost everything that the shepherds did reads like a story: When the angel had left, the shepherds said “let’s go” and went and found Mary and Joseph. They told people about it (who were amazed) and then they went home. Nice story; we feel good and as a bonus, we now have a nice role for preschoolers in Christmas pageants, as little sheep.

But the story wasn’t entirely over, even though we don’t hear about these shepherds for the rest of the gospel. They were glorifying and praising, and didn’t stop. If you read the Greek verbs, they are imperfect, meaning the action started and then kept going. You see, glorifying and praising Jesus is the calling of everyone who has been called Christian, the baptized people of God. We do that in worship, in our prayers and families, and everywhere we are throughout our lives.

We don’t have to abandon our other callings for it. The shepherd went back to their shepherding. In experiencing God’s adoption into humanity and God’s adoption of humanity, they were transformed into glorifying, praising, gospelling shepherds. And we, like them, experience our call in Jesus’ call, in the power of his name.

And so we come full circle. We have been called and named as God’s family. I want to set the tone for us to consider again the significance of Jesus’ name for us by reading a poem by Julia Dinsmore, marginally housed “Storyteller, artist, and social change maker” who has lent her story of suffering and resilience to the world in her speaking, her poetry, and her book. She writes:

My name is not “Those People.”
I am a loving woman, a mother in pain, giving birth
to the future, where my babies have the same chance
to thrive as anyone.

My name is not “Inadequate.”
I did not make my husband leave – he chose to,
and chooses not to pay child support.
Truth is though, there isn’t a job base for all
fathers to support their families.
While society turns its head, my children pay the
price.

My name is not “Problem and Case to Be Managed.” I
am a capable human being and citizen, not just a client.
The social service system can never replace the compassion
and concern of loving Grandparents, Aunts,
Uncles, Fathers,
Cousins, Community – all the bonded people who
need to be but are not present to bring children forward
to their potential. While society turns it’s head,
my children pay the price.

My name is not “Lazy, Dependent Welfare Mother.”
If the unwaged work of parenting, homemaking and
community building was factored into the Gross
Domestic Product, my work would have untold value.
And I wonder why my middle-class sisters whose
husbands support them to raise their children are
glorified – and they don’t get called lazy and dependent.

My name is not “Ignorant, Dumb or Uneducated.” I got my PhDo,
in poverty hunger & desperation from the school of life!
I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food
stamps for 3 kids. Rent is $585. that leaves $36 a month to
live on. I am such a genius at surviving that I could
balance the state budget in an hour.

Never mind that there is a lack of living -wage jobs.
Never mind that it is impossible to be the sole emotional,
Social, spiritual and economic support to a family.
Never mind that parents are losing their children
to the gangs, drugs, stealing, prostitution, social
workers, the poverty industry, kidnapping, the streets, the predator.
Forget about putting money into schools – just
build more prisons.

My name is not “Lay Down and Die Quietly.”
My love is powerful and the urge to keep my children
alive will never stop. All children need homes
and people who love them. They need safety and
the chance to be the people they were born to be.

The wind will stop before I let my children become
a statistic. Before you give in to the urge to blame
me, the blame that lets us go blind and unknowing
into the isolation that disconnects your humanity from mine,
take another look. Don’t go away.
For I am not the problem, but the solution.
And…My name is not “Those People.”

You see, Jesus means savior or deliverer. His “calling”, his name that creates, is to deliver us from bondage to being marginalized as “those people” to a life of deliverance, called as adopted “children of God”. Just as Joshua his namesake led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, Jesus leads us into our identity. The gift of incarnation is the gift of deliverance. We are no longer orphans without a home but have become the family of God, at home in his eternal care. We honor and praise Him as a grateful response this gift, but the gift is real, it is effective, and as the one whose name God changed from Saul to Paul says: there is nothing, neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus [our savior, our deliver, and] our Lord. [Rom. 8:38-39]. Thanks be to God.

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