Christmas 1 • Isaiah 61:10–62:3 • January 1, 2012

by Henry Rowold

Sometimes Christians find the prophetic writings strange territory because those writings seem to be an unending boiling and churning of divine wrath and horrifying judgment. The New Testament seems to be much more familiar territory in terms of knowledge and content. In reality, there is plenty of judgment in the New Testament also—but that’s not our topic here. Our topic deals with much more positive, downright spectacular, visions in the prophetic writings of what the future will hold after God’s judgment has come (defeat and exile), after God’s people repent and look to God again, and when God forgives and establishes his people once again. (Doesn’t this simply sound like the narrative form of our dogmatic category of law-gospel?)

Notice how the vision in our pericope jumps from one exuberant image to another. Perhaps the most dominant is the picture of bride and bridegroom, which describes not only the joy in Israel’s heart (61:10), but also the renewed relationship between Israel and God (62:5)—no wonder Paul exults on this imagery too (Eph 5:21–33). There is in addition, the joy of new, festive clothing (61:10), the “crown of splendor,” and the “royal diadem” (62:3). God’s salvation and his renewing Spirit turns shame and disgrace (61:7) into righteousness (61:11, 62:1–2), which in turn leads “praise (to) spring up before all the nations” (61:11).

In the midst of this splendiferous vision is yet another image which this homiletical study focuses on, namely the “new name” mentioned in 62:2 and expanded in 62:4—yes, we will tack verses 4 and 5 onto the assigned pericope. What follows is a train of thoughts moving from names generally to the “new name” of this pericope to the “name that is above all names” (Phil 2:9) to the name into which we are baptized (Mt 28:19), and finally to the names “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rv 21:27).

N.B. 1) There are places indicated in the study below where the preacher is invited to insert his own [surname] or [given name] or [nickname.] 2) This homiletic study follows the principle that one image/theme is enough for one sermon, and leaves other themes for future sermons. 3) The expanded skeleton that follows is intentionally brief, so there is room to supplement it with examples, expansions, or applications pertinent to the occasion or congregation.

What’s In a Name

A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing. Our name identifies who we are; our name describes who we are; our name determines who we are. Our name and our self are inseparable.

Like the (give examples of surnames in the congregation), I carry a surname too, a name I had—or more correctly, a name that had me—before I was born. A name I was born into…a name that carried family identity and tradition from generations…a name that brings me into the world in a set of relations and relationship. [Surname] is a name I may carry with pride/embarrassment/resentment, but I do carry it—or does it carry me? A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing.

Like all of you, I also carry a given name. I am not just a [surname] but a [given name surname]. And the [given name] about me is me in my uniqueness, to mold and shape, to mark identity within the [surname] clan. I can share my [surname] with many, but my [given name] I entrust mostly to special friends, even more so my [nickname].

But I am these two together. My name is not just a username or a password; my name is me, part of me, inseparable from me. Pity the person who suffers amnesia, and can’t remember his name or who he is.

A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing. What a life-changing, revolutionary step it would be for a person to change his/her name. Actually, folks of the male persuasion don’t often do that, nor do they appreciate what a commitment it is for a young woman to set aside her surname and take on her husband’s when they marry. I can understand the reluctance of a woman to set aside who she was as though she isn’t that person any more. I can also understand the desire of some couples to join surnames, as unwieldy as that can be.

A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing. What an indignity and shame it must have been for Judah when the superpowers of the day (Egypt or Babylon) simply replaced kings at their will and renamed them: Eliakim to Jehoiakim; Mattaniah to Zedekiah (2 Kgs 23:34, 24:17). It isn’t that those names were bad in themselves, but they were imposed by intruders. The kings couldn’t be themselves, but had to be what Egypt or Babylon called them to be.

On the other hand, when the Lord redeems Israel—from slavery and exile, from singing only sad songs by the rivers of Babylon (Ps 137), from being ridiculed, outcast, alien, and hopeless—one of the signs of joy and salvation that he grants them is new names. Gone are the names Deserted and Desolate. The Lord who redeems them gives them not just a name for the future but a name with a future, indeed a name with a present—not a name foisted on Israel, nor a name of ridicule, but a name given in love and in promise (Is 62:4): Hephzibah (my delight is in her) and Beulah (married, [my] bride)—not catch names in our day, but easy on the ear and heart for those exiles. Those names are to be heard, Israel’s joy and God’s love are to be seen by “all nations,” and praise will redound to the name of the Lord.

A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing, especially in the hand of God, for God loves to give new names, as he did when he made Abram into Abraham, Sarai into Sarah, Saul into Paul. He instructed Joseph to “give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The greatest of Christmas gifts is that name above all names, the name at which all knees shall bow, the name “given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He who gave his life for us gives his name to us. He invites us to be baptized into that name (Mt 28:19). He calls his name upon us, and we bear/name/proclaim/praise/live the name of Christ, a name, a hope, and a joy we could never inherit or make for ourselves. Bearing his name we offer him our birth names, as we offer all parts of our life, to be washed, redeemed, and retooled, and by his grace “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rv 21:27).

A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing. Our name identifies who we are; our name describes who we are; our name determines who we are. Our name and our self are inseparable. And we are Christ’s.

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