The Wonder of Christmas (Week 2)

The advent series this year is based on Ed Robb’s and Rob Renfroe’s publication The Wonder of Christmas available through Abingdon Press.  Many thanks are owed them for making this available.  The opportunity to share their work is a delight.

The Wonder of a Name given on Sunday, December 4, 2016:Week 2 of Advent series based on The Wonder of Christmas by Robb & Renfroe

 Scripture: Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[a] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part A)

Did you know that God gave Jesus his name? The Bible tells us that God sent an angel to Mary and to Joseph in two different locations and told them they were going to have a baby and to name him Immanuel meaning “God save us”.

Can you just imagine when Mary and Joseph started talking about having this baby that they were surprised that each of them had been told what name to give the baby by an angel! I bet they got a funny feeling in their tummy as they tried to sort everything out.

Well, I know that when I tried to find names for my kids, I spent a long time studying baby names and their meanings. It was no easy task and what I picked had to be agreed upon by their dad. I bet I spent weeks trying to find the right name with the right meaning.

God gave Jesus his name and the mean is “God saves us.” I wondered why he picked that name. In our advent study, The Wonder of Christmas, I learned that the Bible records only a few times that God changed a name but only once did he name a baby and that was Jesus. I also learned that it was the first time that the name Jesus was used.

Ed Robb writes:

When God gave someone a new name, it was because a divine purpose was revealed to and placed within that person. Names connote identity in the biblical context; so a name change signified that God had transformed that persons identity and rerouted the trajectory (path) of his or her life. The name became symbolic of the person’s God-ordained mission to be an ambassador, a representative, and a living vessel for his grace, goodness, love , and hope in the world.

Wow! He goes on to share a few examples of how God changed a few names, but none ever was given the name “Jesus” until he decided that he had to do something to save us.

But now we wonder why the name Jesus? Well Robb explains it:

. . . Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and that name meant something to Joseph and Mary. In fact, it meant something to every Jew, because it was the name of Moses’ successor, Joshua.

Born into slavery in Egypt, Joshua was given the Hebrew name Hoshea, meaning salvation. Being a slave, his name conveyed a hope, not a reality. . .

Now isn’t that a wonder that God could find a special name that meant so much to the ancient people that they knew why Jesus’ name was so important!

I know that selecting my kids names was a major effort. I wanted names that really meant something special and that connected them to their heritage. God did that with Jesus’ name, too. Isn’t that wonderful!

Mary and Joseph were given the name because it was a special message to all Jewish people. It was a name that connected Jesus directly to God and to all the generations. Robb explains that the connection even goes back to a story of the Hebrew people were saved from slavery in Egypt, all through the wonder of the name.

Even though Joshua was born into slavery, he followed Moses out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness for forty years. He was one of Moses men who ended up leading the people out of the wilderness—he saved them and Robb adds Joshua was really named Hoshea, but God changed it to Joshua.

We read in Numbers 13:16 that, even before sending the spies to explore the land, Moses changed Hoshea’s name. He took two words—Jehova (Yahwey), the proper name of the God of Israel, and Hoseha, meaning salvation—and wove them together to form a new name, Joshua (Yehoshua in Hebrew), meaning “the Lord is salvation,” or God saves. When Moses died, it was Joshua whom God chose as their leader. He is the one who led them out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.

Through Joshua, God saved their people from a life of futility and death in the wilderness and brought them into the land of the living. . .

When the angel announced to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 NASB), he was clearly communicating the reality of One who brings salvation to God’s people once again—but in a way and manner that no ordinary human being could ever do.

The wonder of Jesus’ name is that is a clear statement to God’s faithful followers that the baby named Jesus/Immanuel is the way to salvation. Follow Jesus and you will be saved and receive life eternal as a follower of God. God gives us the name Christian as evidence that we are saved.

Christmas Story: Luke 1:26-33 (NLT)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings,[a] favored woman! The Lord is with you![b]

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[c] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part B)

            Learning about the name of Jesus leads to other questions to wonder about. For instance, look at the second question from this weeks study:

How does understanding the meaning of Jesus’ name impact your understanding or appreciation for what he came to do? In what ways has Jesus saved you?

Knowing that God gave the infant baby the name Jesus or Immanuel, becomes a powerful lesson in understanding the significance of Christmas. In fact it really does put wonder into the season.

I can see that God’s presence on earth was instrumental in transforming the world that challenged the faithful. Something had to happen to give them hope. Something had to change if God’s world was going to be saved. So Jesus was born.

Our world challenges us in so many ways that we tire out. We have a way of losing our focus and fail to maintain a God/Christ-centered life. Is it no wonder that our problems can push God out of our lives?

Robb identifies that the problems that separate us from God include simply ignorance of God, brokenness whether physical or mental, relationship problems with others, or poverty making it difficult to meet even our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Whatever the problem, we lose focus on God and our relationship with him. Robb states:

. . . It is the good news that, no matter what you’ve done, God is not against you but for you. No matter how far you’ve wandered, God wants you back.

. . . Here’s the reality. We all push God out of our lives.

. . . The Bible calls our rejection of God sin, and that’s why Jesus came. God knows that all of us need a Savior.

Recently a new sense of wonder came over me in a conversation with other pastors. God’s chosen people, according to the Bible, was a band of tribes, 12 to be exact, that were slaves. They did everything they could be remain faithful, even while Egyptian slaves. They did the job so well that God lead them out of captivity, stayed with them in the dessert, and lead them forward into a new land.

The story does not end there. The story continued and still continues. When God sent Jesus to save us, he lived the human life experience and through his ministry, death, and resurrection has saved all who believe. The original 12 tribes of slaves has propelled their relationship with God to grow into a global force of Christians doing all they can to continue God’s work.

Jesus’ name is a clue to unlock the wonder of Christian faith. It is open to all who believe in Jesus as the savior. Robb states it:

. . . [God’s] people are those who believe on him and crown him Lord of Lords and Lord of their lives, as Paul so eloquently expresses in Philippians 2:9-11. “His people” is a statement that extends over the boundary line of Judaism to include the wise men who came from afar as well as the shepherds who tended sheep on Bethlehem’s plains.

It includes you as well, if you’ll let it. (emphasis added)

Closing prayer from The Wonder of Christmas:

Jesus, your name is beautiful and special. You are the Lord of salvation—our God who saves. I am so grateful that you entered this hostile world to save us—to save me. You are so much more than a teacher, a healer, a counselor, and a prophet; you are our Savior! And that is good news! May the wonder of your name fill my heart with joy this Christmas and always. In your precious name I pray. Amen.

Reflecting on The Wonder of a Name (part C—to include communion)

Consider this: When God named his son Jesus, he was telling us that those who believe in him are saved. When we accept Jesus as our personal savior we are also given a new name: Christian or Christ-follower.

Are you living up to your name?

Today we share the bread and the cup as our church’s tradition on the first Sunday of the month. The very tradition is designed to renew our relationship with Triune God. Just like we share in the Apostles’ Creed, we do believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As you hear the story of Jesus’ birth again this year, discover the wonder of Christmas. Last week we found the wonder of a star that the wise men knew lead to Jesus as an infant, but more importantly they knew that Jesus was God and they left knowing the truth of God’s love. The wonder of the star lead them to the wonder of Christmas. God loved us so much that he sent his son to save us.

Join in today’s communion with all of those whose name includes Christian:

Sharing the bread and the cup                

Parting words: Blessings come when we serve God. Thank you for joining us for this special time together:

May the wonder of Jesus’ name draw you closer to God this holiday season. Remember the words from John 3:16-17:

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Remember your baptism as Christian and receive the wonder of Christmas and go tell it to others so they too may be renamed as Christians.

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