Missio Advent: What’s in a Name? (Revisited)

During Advent, Missio is concurrently running two series.  On Mondays and Wednesdays Cameron Barham, lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Kennesaw, GA provides Advent devotions from the Gospel of Matthew.  On Fridays, Drew Masterson of The Washington Institute provides a series of reflections on four films for Advent.


And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Matthew 1:19-23

stained-glass-nativity-1185056 - George Bosela

Names have significant meaning and gravity within the Biblical context. Names helped define and shape those so crowned. As was previously noted in the first post of this Advent series, the name Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua which means “Yahweh saves.”[1]  The angel of the Lord commands Joseph in a dream to name this baby Jesus. The reason for so significant and great a name is that He will “save His people from their sins” in accord with the covenantal redemptive promises of God. Matthew goes on to link this sacred name with the prophecy from Isaiah 7 in which Jesus is also Immanuel which means “God with us.” Here again, we have quite a deep well of theological truth contained within the meanings of these names that is worthy of our consideration this Advent.

Take note of what Jesus comes to save His people from. He did not come to save them from an oppressive, tyrannical government or any other earthly power. Jesus comes to save them from their sins. Despite all of their offerings and all of their sufferings, their sins continued to be their greatest and most crushing oppressor of all. As Michael D. Williams describes, “sin is man’s betrayal, desertion, faithlessness, breach of covenant relationship, and treachery, directed against a personal God.”[2] The result, according to Williams, is that “alienation takes the place of covenant intimacy. Hostility, rather than obedient servanthood, now characterizes man’s relationship to God.”[3] In short, sin had separated them (and us) from God, the Father and Creator. However, God refused to leave them (and us) in this devastating condition. According to Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half as persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.”[4]

Jesus steps into this chasm between God and His people to redeem them to God so that they can dwell with Him in unfettered joy and peace. The goal of salvation, then, is that God will at long last dwell with His people. Leon Morris writes, “Matthew surely intends his readers to understand that ‘Emmanuel’ was his name in the sense that all that was involved in that name found its fulfillment in him. The quotation and the translation of the Hebrew name underline the fact that in Jesus none less than God came right where we are. And at the end of the Gospel there is the promise that Jesus will be with his people to the end of the age (28:20)- God with us indeed.”[5] Jesus did not make it possible for God to dwell with us; He was/is God with us! In Jesus, both salvation and the presence of the Lord come to His people.

The Advent of Jesus ushers in a whole new creative reality for God’s people and for the world. The life of Christ displays the healing, forgiving, redeeming power of having God the midst of His people. This ministry of redemptive presence continues in God’s sons and daughters as He calls us to display and apply His redeeming and restoring glory in this world that groans under the weight of sin. God grants each of us in the power of the Holy Spirit a range of unique and creative abilities in which to display His glory in the name of Jesus. In engaging the world and displaying the glorious image of God through our gifts and callings, we experience the presence of the Lord in a deeply satisfying way. Frederick Buechner describes it in this way in his definition of vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” [6] This meaning and purpose are given to us in the name that is above all names and at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess: Jesus, Immanuel, the one who saves His people from their sins to dwell with their Heavenly Father in eternal joy and peace!
Cameron Barham is the Lead Pastor of Christ Community Church in Kennesaw, GA.

Images: FreeImages.com/Ase Meistad Skjellevik, George Bosela



[1] D.A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke,  ed. by Frank E. Gabelein  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2007), 75-76.

[2] Michael D. Williams, Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2005), 66.

[3] Ibid., 67.

[4] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 199.

[5] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 31.

[6] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973), 95.

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