Give Him the Name Jesus
Randy L. Quinn
Last week I talked
about how little attention Mary gets in the Gospels and subsequently in the
church. Well, Joseph gets even less attention. He acts, and we know some of his
thoughts, but he has no speaking parts. And after the birth stories in Luke and
Matthew, we never see him again in any of the Gospels. In fact, he is only
mentioned four other times, and always in relation to Jesus who was known as the
“son of Joseph” (Lk 3:24, 30; Jn 1:45, 6:42).
Ronda and I
accidentally started a collection of Nativity sets. I say accidental because we
let our parents know we wanted one while we went looking. Unbeknownst to us,
they made one for us, and we’ve been collecting them ever since.
What has struck me
about the various sets is the background role that Joseph seems to have. He
stands in the background, isolated and alone while Mary and the baby take center
stage receiving the adoration of shepherds and magi.
In most Christmas
presentations, Joseph is given back seat, too. In all of the Sunday School
Christmas programs I've come across -- whether I saw them, wrote them, or read
about them -- only one had a speaking part for Joseph. Only one.
And, I don’t know
if you’ve ever tried, but when you look for a Christmas Carol or some special
music that speaks about Joseph, the same thing holds true. It's a rare song that
celebrates the story of Joseph.
That's why our
story today is so important to me, I suppose. It's about a Dad. It's about
Joseph. But as we look more closely, it becomes clear that Joseph isn’t just a
foster parent to Jesus. Matthew presents him as an important role model for
I saw a short clip
on television the other day that reminded me of a trip I made several years ago.
We were still using a stroller to get Melissa around, so it must have been five
or six years ago.
Ronda had gone to
Kansas. I took Melissa with me on the plane when I left a week or so later.
It wasn't the only
time we've taken a different route on our vacations. One year Ronda flew with
Melissa to Kansas and then to Chicago. I drove to Chicago and met them there.
Last year, Ronda drove to Kansas with Melissa and I flew out later.
On this particular
trip, I think everyone I met made a comment about how hard it must be to travel
alone with Melissa. (It really wasn’t then, Melissa was small enough to carry in
one arm while I put the diaper bag in the stroller and walked anywhere I wanted
to go.) I really didn't think much about their comments until later when I
realized what was really happening.
It was because I
was a Dad travelling alone. Ronda didn't get comments when she traveled alone
with Melissa. But I did. People made particular notice of me with Melissa
because in our culture it's rare for Dads to spend time with their children.
In fact, some
researchers say most children have seen more Television before their sixth
birthday than they will see of their Dad in their ENTIRE LIFETIME!
Joseph is portrayed
here as a Dad. And I have a kindred spirit with him because of that fact.
When Ronda and I
were married, her children were twelve and thirteen. They never called me Dad.
They still don’t. And while at least one of them has told me I’ve been more like
a Dad than their own father has, I’m still called “Randy.”
But I have been
called Dad. We always explain to our foster children that they can call us Randy
and Ronda or Mom and Dad, whichever is easier to remember. We knew we’re not
their real parents, but if they want to call us Mom and Dad, it’s OK.
But I remember the
first time one of them called me Daddy. I knew I had a different role in their
lives when that happened. And I knew there was a bond of love between us – a
bond that only made their departure more painful. But I wouldn’t trade that
experience for anything.
But as we look at
our text, it becomes clear that Joseph isn’t just called Dad by Jesus. He is
another important role model for Christians. He hears the word of God and
responds in faith.
speaks to us in dreams, sometimes God speaks to us by angel visitants, and
sometimes God speaks through the voices of other people – including children.
But God does still speak to us.
seems to ask the question of what we do after God speaks.
His task, on the
one hand, seems rather simple: name the child. And so he does (v 25). But there
is more to naming the child than might first occur to us. In naming him Jesus,
Joseph makes Jesus a “son of David”.
You see, until the
advent of DNA testing, you always knew who the mother of a child was, but you
could never be certain about the father. In Jewish culture, paternity was
claimed when a child was named.
Joseph heard the
Angel speak. He may not fully understand the implications of a child whose role
will be "God with us", yet he names the baby “Jesus” just as the angel had told
him to do. He isn't adopting Jesus. He isn't trying to be a Foster Parent. He is
claiming paternity. He is saying he will bring the child into his home and make
room in his life for this child; Joseph assumes the role of Dad to Jesus.
necessarily know what that will mean, he doesn’t know where God will be leading
him as a result of his response, but he claims the child as his own. He does
that by simply naming the child.
In a California
preschool, in one of those counter-cultural communities, a boy came a few days
late for the beginning of school.
His teacher was
pleased that his parents had filled out all the appropriate forms, including
putting his name on a nametag around his neck. The teacher was used to unusual
names like "Sea Foam," "Precious Promise," and "Peek-a-Boo," but she was
startled by the name on this small boy's tag: "Fruitstand." She went with the
flow, though, and throughout the day it was, "Fruitstand, would you like to
color a picture?" "Fruitstand, it's time for recess."
it was time to put the children on the buses that afternoon, she said, "Now
don't you worry, Fruitstand, the bus driver will know where to drop you off
because all of the parents write where their child should get off on the back of
the name tags." Turning over Fruitstand's nametag, she found the word,
Our text today is
about names and naming as it is about Joseph. Matthew may SAY it's about the
birth of Jesus (v 18), but the birth is only alluded to in the middle of the
last sentence, in the last verse of our reading today.
The focus of the
text seems to be when Joseph names the child.
Our text is much
more about names and being named. And we shouldn’t be too surprised, given what
precedes this passage.
the first 17 verses of his Gospel, Matthew lists over forty names! (I have
preached sermons based on that particular list of names, and I am convinced that
Matthew has good – and important – reasons for the genealogy, but that is not
the focus of this sermon.) Our text today names only Mary, Joseph – the son of
David (v 20), and Jesus Christ
(v 18) – who is also named Emmanuel (v 23).
When they hear
“Jesus Christ,” people sometimes think that “Jesus” is his first name and
“Christ” is his last name. But they are confused when Paul refers to "Christ
Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23, 8:39; 1 Cor 15:31; Eph 3:11; 1 Tim 1:2, 1:12; 2 Tim
At the same time,
the people who think in terms of a first name and a last name tend to read this
passage and immediately assume that "Emmanuel" is his middle name.
But "Christ" is not
really a name. It's a title. It's akin to the political titles we use: "Mr.
Mayor." "Mr. President." "Senator Murray." Christ is a Greek word. The same word
in Hebrew is Messiah. In English, the word is Anointed.
Anointed. Or as it's said in some translations, "Jesus, the Messiah." But even
after we clarify the title "Christ", there is the question about him being
the entire New Testament, the name Emmanuel is never used outside of this verse.
In fact, the name only appears three times in the entire Bible!
If his name was Emmanuel, not many people seemed to know it.
Which makes me
wonder if we're looking at the wrong side of his nametag. Maybe one is his name
and the other is directions for the bus – or maybe directions for his life.
Jesus is his name.
Anointed One is his title.
"God with us" is his role.
“Jesus” is a name
that in Aramaic sounds so much like Joshua that you cannot distinguish the
names. Jesus comes like Joshua to bring fulfillment of the promises. Jesus,
whose name means "the one who saves," has come to save his people. Jesus, the
name above all names.
But he doesn’t
choose to bring salvation, he is called to save. He is chosen by God to save. He
is Anointed by God and given a title of royalty.
The salvation he
brings comes by way of the role he is filling: God with us. Emmanuel. Not the
God "out there," the God with us. Not the God who doesn't care, the God who is
with us in all of life's circumstances.
And in coming to
us, in the midst of our lives, God expresses the message of grace and love. It
is referred to as "the Gospel," which means good news. The good news is that
Jesus, as Emmanuel, brings salvation.
As I said, this
text is about names and naming. Jesus is given a name.
But in his culture,
a name is more than just a way to call someone. It's also about a person's
calling. Jesus is seen by his parents as a promised Savior.
Like Joseph, we
know the baby's name. Like Joseph, we know his role. Unlike Joseph, we also know
the rest of the story.
We cannot claim the
role Joseph claims, but we can find ways to name Jesus in our homes and in our
lives. We can look for signs that God is with us. We can also respond in faith
when God speaks to us, when God calls us to do things that we don’t fully
God comes to us at
Christmas, it's up to us to recognize, accept, and celebrate the life of Jesus,
the Christ, Emmanuel.