In my first few months as Bishop of Gloucester I have had the privilege of visiting a diverse range of places and have met hundreds and hundreds of people – endless new faces and unique identities. The downside is that I have found it impossible to remember everyone’s name and yet names are deeply significant.
At this time of year there will be names written on Christmas cards, on presents, and perhaps even on table settings.
I recently received a corporate Christmas card without a signature and nothing to identify that it was personally for me apart from the printed label on the envelope. It doesn’t count for much and it’s not one I will keep.
Names are personal and they are about identity. When a baby is born, people quickly enquire after the child’s name. Sometimes babies are named after family or friends, and in many cultures a name is chosen because of the significance of its meaning. The fact is that every person born into the world has a unique identity and name – and is known for who they truly are, not least by God.
This Christian festival of Christmas has a baby at the heart of it. We celebrate the Almighty God choosing to enter the mess of the world as a tiny baby and given the name Jesus which means ‘God rescues’.
“Here is God come among us as a fully human person with a name. In Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be one of us – like you or me. Knows intimately what it’s like to feel pain, sorrow, joy and hope. God knows all our weaknesses, understands all our fears and rage. Yet God doesn’t depart. Doesn’t pull away from us. Jesus’ true identity is as “God with us”, “Emmanuel” in Hebrew.
Perhaps this Christmas there’s a present with your name on it under a Christmas tree, or a parcel with your name on it waiting to be delivered. Yet, far more significant than that is that your name was on the very first Christmas present, vulnerable flesh and blood lying in a feeding trough. You are named, known and loved by God who is holy and other, yet closer than close. Your name was on the palms of the hands of Jesus Christ grown up and hanging on a cross. And when Jesus rose from the dead and proved that the darkness can never put out the light, your name was there.
If this Christmas you dare to peer through the door of a middle-eastern stable hundreds of years ago and see the tiny new-born baby and dare to ask his name, might you dare to discover the truth that God is ‘for us’, already knows your name and speaks it with love and longing.
I wish you a peaceful Christmas in which you know yourself loved and known by name.