Sunday, December 24, 2006

A God by Any Other Name…

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Luke 1:39-56

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet are heart-broken that their families hate each other and that that’s between their love for each other. Juliet sees that who her beloved is, no matter his name, her love for him is true. And to a great degree, this is true. No matter what you call a thing, it is the thing that it is. A rose is a rose, even if you are taught it has a different name. It will smell just as sweet.

But at the same time, what we call God, what God calls Himself, matters. It’s true that God is God no matter what. But can we refer to Him in just any way we care to? Are the “gods” of other religions the true God, despite the fact they have a different name? What’s in a name when it comes to God?

In the Word of God itself there are many names for God. And since He’s the author of the Book, we can safely conclude that they’re all legitimate, and, shall we say, godly names for Him. Even in our Gospel reading for today we have a few names for God: Lord, God, Savior, the Mighty One. And Mary even says of God: “holy is His name”.

We of course know who God is because He has revealed Himself to us in His Holy Word. What He calls Himself in the Bible isn’t just so that we know what to call Him. The names of Himself He gives in His Word reveal to us what kind of a God He is. They tell us about Him, what He does, how He thinks about us.

This evening in our Christmas Eve worship we are going to be celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world in His birth at Bethlehem. But really God came into the world before the delivery of the baby Jesus in that stable. It was nine months before in His conception in the womb of Mary. For nine months the Savior of the world was peacefully at rest inside Mary.

It was even before His birth that the promises of the Old Testament had begun to come true. A virgin was great with child, and without the breaking of the sixth commandment. A young pregnant woman visiting with her cousin, who was also the recipient of a miraculous conception, caused the baby in her to leap for joy at the sound of the mother of the Lord’s voice.

Jesus had already begun saving the world. Because it wasn’t only in His death on the cross that He secured salvation for the world. It was also in His life. In His bringing to fruition all the promises of the Old Testament concerning God’s eternal love for mankind and His desire to send a Savior to take away the sins of the world. Jesus hadn’t even been born and already Elizabeth, her unborn son John, and the mother of Jesus Himself had received life-altering experiences. Not only were they changed for the rest of their lives, they were changed forever.

The names Elizabeth and Mary call God show us how. They both call their God “Lord”. This was the name that was the main one God and His people in the Old Testament called Him. Usually we think of the name “Lord” as a master. And He is our master. But He is more than that. The name God used of Himself also brought the idea that He is the eternal God, the one who will always be there for His people. This was brought undeniably close to home with Elizabeth and Mary as they were now living proof that God desires to dwell among men.

Mary also calls God “God”. And this almost seems a generic name for God and the one often used. But notice what she says about God: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. What does it mean that God is our “Savior”? The obvious answer is that He is the one who saves us. And He does indeed do that. But don’t you love the way Mary brings this salvation to life in how she describes the salvation of God her Savior?: “for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.”

Mary was rejoicing to God that everything she was receiving, everything that was happening to her, all that she was blessed with, was all of God. It was all from Him, by Him, and through Him. She deserved none of it. She couldn’t bring any of it about. If she was saved it was because God was saving her. All glory was to Him, not to her. Would people rejoice at what happened to her? You’d better believe it! What a great example of how God comes to us where we’re at, in our need, in our humble estate and does what only He can do—save us.

It’s all by and from Him because of His power. He is Almighty God. And so Mary rejoices in the “Mighty One” who has done great things for her. But you know what the greatest work, the most powerful thing God, the one who has all power, has done? It’s that He has extended mercy. It’s not in His reigning as King of the universe. It’s in His humbly sending His Son to be born in a manger. To rejected by men, to endure the beatings and scourgings and mocking and an excruciating death on a cross. His most powerful and awesome work was to suffer in our place in order that we may be saved.

And that’s why Mary can’t help but say “holy is His name”. That’s why we see who God is when we look at Jesus. When we see that God performed a miracle in bringing about the birth of Christ through a woman who conceived apart from the union of herself and another human being who is sinful as we all are, we see that the child in her womb was apart from sin. That that baby grew up without sin infesting His life as it does ours. That that man went silently to a cross to bear our unholiness, our sin, our guilt, so that we may be holy and reign with Him forever.

Now we can see as Mary did how great God is. Why He had to give us a bunch of names to refer to Him. His power and mercy cannot be contained in one name alone. A god by another name in any other religion is a god in whom there is no hope, no salvation, no life. The God of the Bible, by every name it rejoices in referring to Him, is the true God in whom there life and grace and mercy and glory.

God is God. Whatever people think of Him, believe about Him, or however they slander His name, He is the true God. He is God no matter what. But names do matter and He’s given us a host of them in His Word so that we may know Him. It’s in the name of Jesus that who God is brought home. We are blessed by God because Jesus is our God and Savior. He is the Mighty God who has done great things for us. Holy is name. Amen.

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