4th Sunday of Advent – Matthew 1:18-25

Who can tell me what their name means?
I have a little list here of some names and their meaning:
Bruce – woods
Andrew – manly – courageous
Kylie – a boomerang
Karen – pure
Ruth – beautiful and compassionate
Dianne – the divine one

Names are more than just headings or letters on a page.  A name brings meaning and purpose to someone or something; names are really an expression of what is going on.
If you are thinking names don’t really mean anything to you, can you remember being called names at school.  Name calling is horrible and very hurtful, and this is because names are a description that changes who you are; it is very powerful.

Actors and singers often change their names: Demi Moore, was born Demetria Guynes, however Demi Moore is a more purposeful name. Bono, the lead singer of U2’s real name is Paul Hewson.  bono is short for the Latin word for ‘good voice’; his name describes his actions.  So you can see, names are an expression of both purpose and action.

There is one more thing names are important for.  They give us access to someone.  Have you noticed the first thing children do when they meet each other for the first time?  ‘What’s your name’ they ask.  Even from a young age, we know that we can’t be with someone or have a relationship with them, until we know their name; then we have access to them.  Guys, you must know what I mean, remember trying to get the name of the girl you fancied across the room; then and only then could you ask her out.

So, there are three key elements to a name; they give purpose, describe action and give access.

An incredible thing happened to Moses when he was afraid to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.  He called out to God and said ‘I want your presence to go with us as we journey through the desert’.  God responds by saying ‘my presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’.  Then Moses is enveloped in a cloud expecting God to appear before him, expecting the presence of God in all his glory and power.  Yet, he did not see his presence or feel his presence, but he did hear his voice and the voice of God gave him more than he would have ever asked for; God gave him access to him by telling Moses his name, saying ‘the Lord, the Lord.’ And then he gave meaning and purpose to his name saying ‘the compassionate and gracious God, slow in anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’.

This is God’s name ‘the Lord’ which gives access to him.  And this is God’s name, which gives purpose and action; the God whose purpose is to love and whose action is to forgive.   How awesome this must have been for them, to know God’s name.

How awesome it is for us.  Today we have even more of God’s presence, even more access, more of his purpose and action than Moses ever did.  That’s right, God has put his name into human form, as Matthew records ‘”Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

We have God expressing his love in the name Jesus, his only Son, who through him, we have access to our Father in heaven.  And in the name, Jesus, we have God’s purpose; to save.  And in the name, Jesus, we have God’s action; to forgive sins.

And God being God, who always giving more than we ask, also attaches to Jesus name ‘Immanuel’ – God with us.

In Jesus we have everything of God, all he has and needs to offer; his purpose and action, his access and now his presence, as Jesus himself promises ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.  Sometimes, in all or struggles, it is easy to lose sight of this reality, sometimes we don’t see Jesus present with us, forgiving us and saving us and leading us into his kingdom  Let me tell you a story about something that happen last week.

I got a call from a concerned father in Gunnedah, telling me his son Ross, about my age, was in the Dubbo base hospital with serious stomach pains.  So I went down and visited him, his mother was there.  They were both in high spirits, talking and discussing plans for Christmas.  It had been a while since they last met as he worked on a farm out from Nyngan.  After talking with Ross, I found out that he used to go to the Lutheran services in Nyngan, but lately he had been a bit slack.  We talked a bit more, and he told me he would like to be picked up in Nevertire on my way through to Nyngan for church services.

I visited him again a few days later.  This time, I felt prompted by the Spirit to give him communion, so I did.  He confessed his sins, received forgiveness and took the body and blood of Jesus.  After this he talked again about going home for Christmas.  Two days later I get a phone call, Ross died, he didn’t make it home for Christmas.  I didn’t know that was going to happen, his mother didn’t, and certainly Ross didn’t.  But Jesus did.  And he was there for Ross, doing what his name implies ‘saving and forgiving’.  That day, in and with the bread and wine, Jesus was Immanuel, there saving Ross, forgiving his sins and bringing him into his kingdom.

And he is here with us today.  The same Jesus is with us that was promised to Joseph; the same Jesus is with us who is born of the Virgin Mary and who was born saviour; one who saves people from their sins; and the same Jesus is with us who is Immanuel – God with us.  We have his presence in the bread and wine as he promises ‘this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you’.

Jesus, Immanuel is present with us, giving us his power and Spirit here at church, yes, but he is also with us each and every moment of the day, like he was with Ross; guiding our thoughts and actions, leading us in his way, strengthening our faith and protecting us from evil.  This is the joyous celebration of Christmas; that God is with us.  And this is the joy we have as we face the year ahead.  We know that when we step out in faith, reaching those who don’t know the name of Jesus, when we go into dangerous places and difficult situations, we know Jesus is with us.

I am currently reading a book on the modern church called ‘An unstoppable force’ by Erwin McManus, and I would like to encourage you with some words as we prepare to enter a new era of church, an new era which may bring with it fear and uncertainty.  Erwin writes ‘God fears nothing and no one!  God moves with intentionality and power.  To live outside of God’s presence will put us in danger; to live in his presence will make us dangerous’.

And we are dangerous, as we work together in Jesus name to plan how best bring people to faith, we are dangerous; dangerous to the devil and all his evil works, because we go in the name of Jesus; the name above all names; the name of God’s Son who came to seek and to save the lost; who came to be Immanuel – God with us.  Amen.

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