Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Saturday, December 21, 2013


WHAT’S IN THE NAME OF JESUS? (Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:9;6; 10-16)
By the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373. December 22, 2013)

What is your name? Why are you called by that name? What is the meaning of your name?

There are two schools of thought with regards to names.  One school of thought is that names do not matter.  They are simply artificial and meaningless conventions. William Shakespeare, in the play, Romeo and Juliet, wrote: “What is in a name? That which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet.”

The other school of thought, which many societies adhere to, is that names do matter. Names have meanings and they matter a lot. That is why we keep our passports, our identity cards, our social security cards with our names on it. We try to safeguard our names because they convey our history, our nationality, our heritage and even our character.

A few years ago, a couple in New Jersey named their son “Adolph Hitler” and their daughter “Aryan Nation” and the court not only convicted them of child abuse, but also took their children and put them in foster homes.  Hitler was a mass murderer in Germany whose ideology of the Aryan Nation as the superior race caused him and the Nazis to incarcerate  the Jews in concentration camps and put them in gas chambers. One wonders what spirit has gotten to this New Jersey parents to name their children in memory of this darkest period in world history.

When I was in Grade School, I had a classmate, a girl, whose name is O. Yes, letter O. And she was always the butt of jokes from the bullies because she was a poor speller and whenever she misspells words, my classmates would yell “O, Zero!” I kept thinking why her parents named her O, and it might be that they were poor spellers themselves? But I really felt bad for her.

I was born December 25 and ordinarily children born on this date are named Jesus. And one time I asked my Mom why they named me Winifredo instead of “Jesus” and they said there was a man in their barrio named “Hesus” who turned out to be crazy, lunatic, insane. She told me they loved me so much they did not like me to be associated with Hesus , the village fool. Instead they named me after a saint “Winifred” who, I learned later in life was actually a woman from Wales who was a healer. Now, I know why a major part of my ministry is healing ministry, maybe because I was named after a healer? 

When my wife and I were serving as missionary priest in the Anglican Church in Singapore, one of our neighbors, a Confucian scholar whom we fondly called “Uncle”, gave me the Mandarin transliteration of Winifred and it turned out to be “Wei Hong Tao” which means “to glorify the Way.” My parents would not have thought of it, but the child they named Winifred whose childish ambition was simply to become a “bus driver” would turn out to be a “healing priest,” whose mission is to “glorify the Way of Jesus.”

THE JESUS NAME                                                                                                                         
So names do matter---and that is why Jesus was named Jesus! Because the word Jesus comes from the Hebrew word Yeshua or Joshua which means “God is salvation.” His name is called Jesus because he came to save us from sin and death. Nothing could be as clear as this than in John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

As a matter of fact, the name Jesus was specifically instructed by an angel who appeared to Joseph, the husband of Mary. When he was considering to divorce Mary because she was found to be pregnant with a child whom he knew was not his, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived of her, is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

So the meaning of His name is clear from the purpose for which Jesus came, and that purpose is to carry out the plan of salvation on the cross of Calvary, to triumph against death and to seal His mission with the promise of the glorious resurrection.

HOW JESUS SAVES                                                                                                                             
The prophet Isaiah tells us many names that Jesus will have and looking at each one tells us a great deal about Jesus' ministry and work. Isaiah 9:6 says“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders and His name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace.”

In Isaiah 7:14, he clarified how this mission of salvation would be accomplished: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him “Immanuel” ( “God-with-us.”) Not only that God will save from a distance or appoint prophets to do the job but he himself will do it. In the Old Testament, God used Moses to liberate his people from their slavery in Egypt. In the New Testament God Himself will be with His people, he will answer their deepest needs, he will mend their broken hearts, he will wipe the tears from their eyes--- because He is “Emmanuel”-God-with-us. 

Emmanuel is the incarnational meaning of Jesus, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). How Jesus saved the world is by becoming one of us, feeling our pains, suffering our sorrows, dreaming our dreams, hoping our hopes. There is a song by Joan Osborne, once popular among the youth and it says, “What if God was one of us? Like a stranger on a bus trying to go home?”

Yes, Jesus is one of us. He lived among us. Every Sunday, we say this in our Eucharistic prayer A: “Holy and gracious Father, in your infinite love you made us for yourself; and when we have fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.”

St. Paul had a beautiful phrase in the Book of Philippians to describe how the name of Jesus accomplished the plan of salvation. 

By the way, the Philippian Christians or Christians from Philippi are some of the favorites of St. Paul. I remember in 1975 when I represented the Philippine Independent Church as youth delegate to the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to the general assembly, we had a Youth Conference in Arusha, Tanzania and we were asked to introduce our names and which country we came from. So I introduced my name as "Winifredo Vergara from the Philippines," and one of the delegates asked, “Where is Philippines?” I happened to be in a joking mood, so I replied, “Philippines is where St. Paul addressed his letter to the Philippians.” And it brought the house down, with the biblically-adept Africans! So when there was a worship time, one delegate from Nigeria reminded us of the joke by reading from this verse and saying, “A reading from the letter of Paul to the Filipinos!” 

So here is the verse: (Philippians 2:6-11.ESV):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So I am thankful that my parents did not name me Jesus because I am not sent to save the world BUT to proclaim this Jesus who came to save the world. I am thankful that my parents did not name me Emmanuel because I am not “God-with-us” BUT a servant of Emmanuel, God-with-us, who also is the Chief Servant among us. 

Now what is your name? Why are you called your name? What is the meaning of your name? What is the purpose of your name? I leave this thought to you, as we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us. Let us pray:

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