Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 27 December 2020.
• First Reading: Isaiah 61: 10 – 62: 3 (He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness)
• Psalm 148
• Epistle: Galatians 4: 4-7 (No longer a slave but God’s child, and an heir)
• Gospel: Luke 2: 15-21 (The shepherds go to see the baby – returned, praising God)
One of the most precious things we have is our name, given us by our parents. It is something that abides with us for all of our lives, and even when we have passed away it still belongs to us.
The state may know is by numbers – our national insurance numbers, passport numbers, driving license numbers and so on. When it really wants to dehumanize and exert its control over us, it gives new numbers, such as those tattooed onto prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps.
But for Jesus, the name given Him by Mary and Joseph was that which they had been instructed by the archangel Gabriel to give, for Jesus was to be the name of salvation.
It would be the name of His person and it would set out His mission. It would turn the world upside down, and be used by all, whether as a name of love and wonder, or a term of blasphemy, frustration or abuse.
The name of Jesus would be there in the prayers of every believer and it would be there in the administration of every sacrament.
It would give meaning and perspective to every expression of despair and every experience of destruction.
In naming Jesus, Mary and Joseph were also giving Him to be circumcised and so to become a member of the Jewish nation.
But this is the name into which we are all baptized and in which we all find our identity as His disciples. It is there above all aspects of nationality of race and culture, and any and every kind of personal identity.
It is a name which lives in us with a special kind of authority as we also live out our Christian identities and callings. We will have our own personal names but that of Jesus is special and in baptism we are joined with Him.
This takes on a further dimension as we look at what Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, which had been especially pressed by people who wanted to impose on it the burdens of the ritual law of Israel.
In being joined with Jesus in baptism, the church was also being joined with Him in a new dimension of Sonship of God. We are now instructed to pray to God, first and foremost as “Our Father”.
It is a relationship of trust and intimacy, of knowing where we belong and what is our destiny.
It is a life in the Holy Spirit, having direct access to Jesus and allowing Him to have direct access to us.
In this sense the life of the Holy Spirit is that of the whole church as it seeks to follow the life that Jesus has given it. It is to find confidence in its faith when others doubt it, and to find strength in our prayers especially when times and circumstances seem to be against us.
It will also renew us in the strength to set self aside and to seek the Lord’s will rather than our own. It is to allow Him to increase and for us to decrease, and when the things we had hoped for do not develop, to receive this also as the Lord’s will for our lives.
It is to allow His ministry to continue within us and among us, especially when we do not feel any confidence in ourselves.
When God gave the Holy Spirit to the church at Pentecost and to us personally at baptism, it was in order to enable the work of Jesus to continue and to be seen in our time and our city.
In this sense it is the work of the Holy Spirit to make the imprint of Jesus on us and in us real.
Isaiah wrote of a new dimension of hope and of glory for Israel as the suffering servant of the Lord.
The Jews were never going to be stripped of God’s promises and Christianity is itself a development of Judaism. Its scriptures are Jewish and its non-Jewish writers, like Luke were under strong Jewish influence.
Indeed, Luke’s writings are in many ways parallel with Paul’s.
But our worship, our sense of God, our understanding of the atonement of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit cannot find themselves if we are cut off from that heritage.
What God promised to ancient Israel will be fully delivered, and meanwhile it has been the message of the gospel that has spread this strand of Jewish thinking around the world.
In naming their baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph were committing themselves to a path of obedience in which the promises of God could and would be fulfilled.
By committing itself to the gospel message the church is also undertaking to allow Jesus to fulfil in its members the work of the gospel through the presence and authority of the Holy Spirit.
But we are doing it in a sense of intimacy with God, calling on Him by name and finding ourselves in Him. It is that sense of allowing Jesus also to express Himself in us, without imposing ourselves on Him.
Just as Jesus abandoned Himself to the cross, so the Holy Spirit looks for us to abandon ourselves to His resurrection.