“His name is Yohannes.”
So, what’s in a name?
Trying to decide what to name a new child is an amazingly challenging task!
There are all kind of traditions, many which are visible in our own congregation. Like the tradition of naming at least one child of each gender after the parent of that gender.
So, Candy Burnett is actually named after her mother Elizabeth, hence the nickname Candy. And Horace Ketcham was named after his father, who was named after his father, and so Horace, Junior and Lucky Ketcham.
So too in the Miedema family, where Bud was named after his father Thomas (who was also nicknamed Bud, now I’m confused) and Penny who was named after her mother Janet. Yes, she is actually Janet Miedema Antona.
I for one am happy that not all parents follow that tradition. While my father’s name was Jack, and I could have lived with that name, I fear what nickname would have followed me.
And I am thrilled to have not been named after either of my grandfathers, Rufus Oscar or Percival Carrol.
I remember a few years ago that in the book Freakanomics they took up the traditions surrounding the naming of children. Written by an economist and an author, they explored the statistics of naming - and the explanations to come up with some fascinating insights.
One was that for many years in the United States, the current generation of children were given either the names of family members, or the names that were most popular among the wealthy in the generation before.
The authors conclusion was that some parents were giving their children names that they perceived as that of successful people in the hopes that the children would follow the pathway of upward mobility.
Different they noted than the tradition at the time of giving children unique names, so they would not be lost in the crowd, or what seems to be a new tradition, throwback names: Warren, Oliver, Greyson, Lilliana, Lucien, and Noah.
Naming a child in hopes that they will be a great person and do great things is like other traditions, where the child’s name comes from an idea about who the child will be.
“His name is Yohannes.”
Elizabeth knew what his name was to be and when the naming ceremony and circumcision time came on the eight day and the Rabbi came to do what was tradition, the men in the family wanted to name the child after his father.
After all, Zechariah was going to be able to say his name out loud as was tradition.
So, the men in the family took on the responsibility on his behalf and wanted to name his “Zechariah”! I mean, what a great name, the name of a man who had encountered an angel of the Lord in the Holy place!
What could be better! How could any child not have a blessed life with such a blessed name?
But Elizabeth said, “No, his name is Yohannes.”
And so, thinking her perhaps a bit befuddled and wondering perhaps if her husband would overrule her, something that actually happened back then, they asked Zechariah.
He wrote “His name is Yohannes.”
And in that moment of faith, believing with his whole heart now what the angel had said, his tongue was released and the praises of Almighty God flowed from his lips!
You know, sometimes we forget that we are reading a story originally written in Greek translated to English. We forget that Jesus name in Hebrew would have been Yeshua, Joshua, or transliterated into Greek as Jesus.
Yeshua is the Hebrew name meaning “he who saves his people”, just like Yohannes is the name meaning “God has been gracious”.
Names are important.
Not only do they identify us, but they connect us to a larger story than just our own. The connect us to generations that have gone before and they connect us to the possibilities that lie ahead.
Today, once again, as we will next Sunday, we baptize a child who is connected to a story of faith that comes through his parents and a story of faith that he will continue.
It is always a privilege and an honor to baptize such a child and to glimpse for a moment what it is that God might be doing in this story.
A moment of insight much like that at the naming and circumcision of John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and one of the blessed sons of God.
Today, we pray for Matthew Joseph Terwilliger, his parents, his sponsors, his family and the whole church, that this sacramental moment will color and guide his life as he is connected to the amazing story of God’s grace given in Jesus.
And we pray, that as we think of John the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we would see in him all that God was doing, as he prepared the way for the Lord who was to follow, Jesus.
“His name is John.” Amen.