Bishop Karen recorded a Christmas thought for the ‘Alfred Daily’ podcast. Read what she said below:
What’s in a name?
Once in Royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed.
Mary was that mother mild
Jesus Christ that little child.
Earlier this year I read an article about decades and names. If you were called Michael, or Robert or Barbara, Christine, Valerie or Carol, chances are that you were born in the 1940s.
The 1950s were marked by sudden economic growth and the emergence of TV pop culture in the UK. Rock n Roll music was being born and young people finally had some disposable income of their own. It was time to party! The popular names then were Stephen, Trevor and Ian and for girls Susan, Linda, and Janet, Sandra and Jaqueline.
Moving onto the swinging sixties it was Paul, Andrew, Nigel and Mark. And, for hip parents of baby girls, Susan, Julie, Karen, Jacqueline and Deborah were the names of choice. And so it goes on – the 70s Sarah, Claire, Nicola, Emma and Lisa, Craig and Gary
The Eighties are known for big fashion, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads – big everything all-around. It was Daniel, Laura, Gemma, Lee, Steve and Rebecca. The Nineties ushered in a love for everything celebrity. Top names were off the charts, with Liam, Jake, Holly, Jessica and Jade. And so we come to the 2000s with Joshua, Grace, and Amelia and 2010s with names of almost anything and everything becoming popular, with names now gender neutral or of places, or trees or anything that fits. I wonder if you have heard your name in this look back over the decades?
Names are important. Life is lived, begins and ends in a very personal way. Clergy know too well the importance of naming an individual at a funeral service as we recall their life well lived, and a maternity ward is often full of conversation about names as babies come into the world.
In the Bible we have these words ‘You are called by name.’ and the psalmist reminds us that God knows us even before we are born, each of us is precious, loved and unique before we even turn up!
I am sure many people remember those books of names parents poured over in the 60s and 70s deciding what they would call their child depending upon the meaning of the name. More recently, of course parents have been much more adventurous about names, not worrying about definitions but what a name stands for. Whatever names mark out a uniqueness and an identity.
So what has all this to do with Christmas? Well, almost everything.
We read a lot about names in the Bible, of the longed for Messiah, and all of them give clues as to who we celebrate at this time of year. In the Old Testament the prophets foretold that a child would be born for us, a son given to us and his name will be called ‘wonderful Counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.’ But not only that the prophet Isaiah also foresaw that a young woman will be with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.
These are wonderful names. So, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem the name he was given reflected the hope that he would bring. We read in Matthews Gospel that the name to be given to Mary’s child should be ‘Jesus’ because he will save is people from their sins and then Matthews reflects those words of Isaiah stating: All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet they will call him Immanuel. And so we hear in that well known carol:
He came down to earth from Heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all.
And his shelter was a stable,
And his cradle was a stall.
With the poor and mean and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour Holy.
Immanuel gives us the greatest clue about Christ, Emmanuel means ‘God with us’ The birth of Jesus we celebrate at Christmas was the beginning of God’s plan to be with us from that time on. As a human being Jesus lived as we do, sharing our feelings and thoughts, in order to for eternity, by God’s Spirit share our good times and bad, to be with us in our laughter, tears, joy and pain. In life and in death. He gave us a pattern for living, and loving, for caring, for peace and justice and he gave us a hope for the future, for peace and for eternal life. A huge God shaped hole in humanity, was filled with the birth of Jesus.
A few years ago, I visited the Holy Land and one of the services we held whilst there took place in the chapel of the maternity hospital in Bethlehem. The place of Jesus’ birth continuing to be the place of birth, and as we sang Christmas carols in the chapel, down the corridor were cries of new born babies, and the busyness of a labour ward. It was a holy space in a busy place. So as we come to another annual celebration of Christmas we make room for that child one again in our midst, we can make our own holy space in our busy places. We can gaze upon Christ and reflect upon what he brings into our world now, a world that still seeks love, joy and peace.
And our eyes at last shall see Him
Through His own redeeming love,
For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heaven above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
The love shown in churches and communities up and down our country is a reflection of the love of God and the care of Christ with us in all the extraordinary and ordinary moments of life, in the dullness of routine and the anxiety of an emergency, in loneliness and fear as well as in crowded places of celebration. God who calls each person by name and is with us there. Is here.
So, as we celebrate today my prayer is that you all sense God with you, Immanuel; that you make space for the God with us. May you all be blessed this Christmas and know in the hope of all your hearts the love of God for you. That wonderful counsellor, everlasting one, the prince of peace.
Happy Christmas to you all.