What’s in a Name – Luke 1:57-66
Isis, Isil or Da’esh. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Priestly black. Black hearse, Black is beautiful, Little black dress. Yellow is the colour of daffodils, springtime, the colour of hope. It is also the colour of the Star of David Jews had to wear during the time of the Holocaust. These are the stars that were extinguished in the gas chamber. Jews wore yellow hats in the Middle Ages.
Elizabeth naming her child John may seem like a simple thing. Nothing to be concerned about. Yet, something was different, something was new. No, the name John had never been used in Zechariah’s family. As was customary, relatives and neighbours joined not only in the joy of the birth, but also in the naming. In second temple Judaism, naming was linked to circumcision, the act by which a male child was made a member of the people of God. The expectation that the boy would be named for his father followed custom in some quarters and the fact that Elizabeth wanted to name the child John may have been understood as a revelation to some. That Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and he began to praise God when Elizabeth told him of her desire to break with custom was perceived as a miracle and also served to make their neighbours fearful. The act of naming had been a result of a long standing relationship between human beings and God. Yet, was John of significance simply because he was called John or because the spirit moved him to be the baptiser?
The gift of human beings naming everything around them was given by God as we find early in in the Book of Genesis. “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was its name. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” It can be argued that the naming of animals by a human being is God’s way of indicating human domination over the created world.
Terrorism, in many of its forms, is the outcome of the misuse of religious texts, often taken out of context; and is an aggressive ideology that must be combatted with sound teaching – those were some of the agreed outcomes of the 12th annual Christian-Muslim dialogue, meeting this week, between the Anglican Communion and the Al-Azhar Al-Sherif. Talks began in September 2001 when an interfaith dialogue committee between Al Azhar al-Sherif – the renowned Islamic centre in Cairo – and the Anglican Communion was established in an agreement signed by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt our friend Bishop Mouneer.
The annual meetings are designed to further co-operation and understanding between Christianity and Islam.
At their meeting in Cairo this week, the participants denounced the recent terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Mali; and affirmed the importance of “joining the efforts of the international community in its determination to combat terrorism and in depleting the financial and military resources of terrorists.”
During the meeting a paper was presented entitled, The role of religious leaders in combating the use of violence and terrorism in the name of religion. As the title implies, this paper discussed the function of religious leaders, specifically how – using the example of Jesus Christ as a servant leader and peacemaker – these leaders are able to combat violence and hatred in cooperation with other religious leaders.” For me, the key point within this statement is to not only use the name of Jesus, but to go a step further and to emulate his example of servant hood and peacemaking behaviours. To allow the spirit to move you to DO.
Advent is a journey through prayer and relationship to perceive what is underneath, what is invisible. This is a time when we go beyond the name. At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, yet with knowledge of Jesus, recognition occurs even when he is not named. Advent is not just about acknowledging a name we are familiar with as we go about our daily existence, but gives us the challenge of learning how to find and absorb the good and holy in all of life. It is moving from a state of needing the signs or names to one of a profound perception of the transcendent. And eventually we come to a kind of knowledgeable blindness or deafness to names and words that can be misinterpreted or misleading. Our lives and minds ought to become so integrated with the Holy Spirit that we are able to perceive Christ with our hearts and souls without physically registering a name. Why is this important? Discerning the good and true is difficult when we are bombarded with products that claim to be the best, dishonest and hypocritical professionals in every field and quieter brands and people who outshine and make more of an impact than their louder, more commercial competitors.
The more we perceive of an individual’s spirit beneath the mantle of title or name, the more incorporated into existence and more significant we become. We become the people God intended, fully able to participate in creation joined together unhindered through our true spirits.
Names can also cause distance between human and human and human and the divine. Yet, we have an inner desire though to close that gap. The Australian aborigines believe that the human and divine must traverse rainbows in order to meet. It is through the ethereal we truly meet each other not simply by trusting the label.
Christian theology would claim that it is through knowledge of the Truth that we find God. Truth beyond a shadow of a doubt. Once we begin to glimpse truth we begin to see beyond our own basic existence to a much richer, more diverse existence. It is the richness of creation and our place in it that we seek.
To learn to see and perceive clearly is to experience life full. However, in today’s world seeing has become more difficult. We now see through a glass darkly, but know there is a marvellous light in the distance.
God calls upon us to reflect and to consider in the leisure and darkness of Advent. To not only understand our limitations as we exist as solitary, named individuals, but also to believe in our own possibilities as we become and do as part of the whole of creation joined one to another.
I do not know how to pray
I do not know how to explain God.
I do know how to stop and to be still.
I can observe and focus.
I can climb the rungs of a rainbow
Alongside the rest of creation
And, like Adam, on Michelangelo’s ceiling,
I can reach for God
And God can reach for me
Culminating in spirit meeting spirit.
Let us pray
Almighty God, eternal, righteous and merciful, give us poor sinners to do for your sake all that we know of your will, and to will always what pleases you; that inwardly purified, enlightened and kindled by the fire of your Holy Spirit, we may follow in the steps of your well beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lord in your mercy.
Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being, you have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness from doing it; but that in your light we may see light clearly, and in your service find our perfect freedom.
Lord in your mercy.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all,
now and evermore.