The General’s Christmas Message – The name God chose
by John Larsson, General of The Salvation Army –
Getting ready for the arrival of a new baby is a busy time for parents. The “things to do” list can be daunting. For Joseph and Mary the list included “Arrange journey to Bethlehem.” For them, the timing of the census could not have come at a worse time. A journey of three days, with Mary expecting her child at any time, needed careful planning. And then there was the matter of finding accommodation on arrival.
But, unlike all other parents, one thing not on their “to do” list was “Decide on a name for the child.” That had already been taken care of. The angel of the Lord had appeared separately to Joseph and to Mary, and told them that Mary would give birth to a son, and they were to give him the name Jesus.
Most parents will agree that was a major item off the list! Choosing the right name can be a headache. And usually a name for both a boy and a girl are needed—making the choice even more difficult.
Should it be a family name? A trendy name or an old-fashioned one? Should it be a biblical name? Malachi and Zion are back these days. Should it be more than one name? A football fan recently gave his son eleven names—the names of the members of his favorite football team! Should it be a name with meaning—like Irene, signifying peace? In some societies, parents consult books listing hundreds of possibilities before making their choice. But Joseph and Mary were spared all that. God had made the choice for them.
God probably spent a long time choosing the earthly name his Son would bear. We pick up pointers from the prophets. Isaiah said: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). How to find a name to sum up all of that!
Listen to Isaiah again, as quoted by Matthew: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us’“ (Matthew 1:23).
Immanuel, “God with us”—a name rich in meaning. Perhaps God lingered long over that possibility. God knew the name he chose would become the best-known name in all of human history. It had to be just right.
When God made his choice he chose a name that spoke of action: “The Lord saves!” He surely said to the angel, “When you tell Joseph about the baby boy that Mary will give birth to, say to him: ‘You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:21).
And so that night when the child was born, they gave him the name God had chosen for him. “Jesus, Jesus,” they whispered tenderly as they looked into the crib. When the shepherds asked what he would be called, they told them God had chosen the name. It was to be Jesus! “Jesus—ah, yes, ‘The Lord saves!’” they must softly have responded. And as the wise men from the East bowed reverently before the child, the parents explained that God had chosen the name Jesus for him, because he would save his people from their sins.
And everything came to pass just as God had foreseen. When Jesus walked on earth, his name became deeply precious to his followers. After his death and resurrection, the fame of his name began to spread throughout the world. The story was told and retold of how God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes him shall not perish but have eternal life. And as countless men and women through the centuries were saved from their sins and found new life in Jesus it seemed that the very name of Jesus was filled with spiritual power!
All of that was hidden from Joseph and Mary on that first Christmas morning as they looked lovingly into the face of the baby Jesus. They would have been amazed to know that the name God had given to their child was to become “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 9-11). But they loved the beautiful name which God had chosen.