""She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins"

- Matthew 1:21

"Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John"

- Luke 2:13


As the day approaches for our second grandchild to be born I once again realize how difficult it is to come up with the right name for the baby. Expectant parents start the process almost as soon as they discover a baby is on the way by combing through books of names, baby naming phone apps and listening to endless suggestions from friends. It seems that today everyone wants a unique name; one that is unheard of, spelled differently or pronounced differently from all the other little ones named Sue, Tom, or Jeremiah.

While reading the two accounts of the Christmas story it dawned on me that in both the story of John the Baptist and Jesus the children were named not by their parents but by angelic proclamation. The rigors of finding a name were lost on Mary, Joseph, Zachariah and Elizabeth because the baby names were given by God.

I wonder, with all the gaps we have in the early life of John and Jesus and all the wonderful things we could know about their formative years, why such attention to their names and birth?

Of course, in the Jewish tradition names had significance and implied something of the expectation and hope for the young bundle of joy and in many ways determined their future. If Zachariah had simply named his child Zachariah II his son would have been expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and fulfil his obligation as a priest or perhaps Jesus would have stayed as a carpenter. But in both of these cases, the angel of God said very clearly that the children would be named John (meaning "the Lord is Gracious") and Jesus (a derivative of Joshua meaning "to save").

In both of these cases we see that the names did in fact set the pitter patter of little feet in the direction they would take in life. While we mostly associate John the Baptist with boisterous rather than gracious, the truth is he was the first to proclaim the coming of the messiah and when it was time, he graciously stepped out of the way. Of course, Jesus fulfilled his name by becoming the Saver (not a typo) of the world. Did the parents know when they followed through with naming their children that both would die young at the hands of cruel people? Did they know that both would be critical to the salvation of the world? Did they know that one would prepare the way and the other would bring the task to fruition? Probably not. But they did know that the name set a course not of their own design but of God's design.

In the western world we do not have pressure to live up to our name but we still have a responsibility to live up to the expectations of the call of God on our life. The bible tells us that "all the days ordained for us were written in your book before one of them came to pass." God has set a path in front of us for a purpose. There is a part we are called to play in the drama of life. There is no one else who can do what God has mapped out for us, only you can be you and only I can be me and for better or for worse, that is the way God has designed it.

Our parents may not have had an angel visit to confirm a name on us but simply by being born we have a role in God's plan. May we be true to what God has called us to do, and be steadfast in who he has called us to be.

Blessings

Mike Hoeft
Major
Area Commander Prairie West/ Emergency and Disaster Services Director
Prairie Division