A New Name

Second Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 62:1-5

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

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Do you know where your name comes from or what it means? Do you have any family traditions in regard to naming children?

My family has a tradition of naming folks after family members who have died. The tradition follows that we will name one of our children with the same first letter as a deceased family member. The memory of choice for my family for the past 2 generations, has been my grandmother, Luba Eisenberg, who died in 1987. My brother, Louis, was born about two years after Luba died, hence his name, “Louis.” One of my cousins named one of her daughters, Lila. Another cousin named one of her sons, Lucas. And Eve’s middle name is Lydia. Louis, Lila, Lucas, and Eve Lydia have all had at least part of their names given in honor and memory of my grandmother, Luba.

My grandmother died when I was less than a month old, so I don’t have any memories of her, but I have heard many stories. She was a very kind woman who cared deeply for her four boys. She survived the Holocaust and settled on an egg farm in NJ with her husband, Henry. Luba worked hard and did her best to care for those whom she loved. She was quirky too. She held onto the some of the superstitions of her home country. Once when driving past a cemetery, my father sneezed. Without saying a word, Luba, reached over to the passenger seat and with a stern look in her eyes, she gently tugged her son’s earlobe. My father still has no idea what this strange thing meant or what tugging his ear was supposed to do, but he does know that she tugged his earlobe in order to protect and care for him.

That was the woman who inspired two generations to give the names Louis, Lila, Lucas, and Lydia to their children. The name represents our hope that our children will receive and share the same kind of love and care that Luba gave while she was alive.

My name has no familial significance of which I am aware. I am Daniel Kyle Eisenberg. The story as I remember it told, is that my parents were getting closer and closer to my mother’s due date and they were stumped as to what to name their child. Finally, they decided to sit down and each write one name- one for a boy and one for a girl. They simply wrote what came to mind and what sounded good to them. And that’s how I got the name Daniel Kyle Eisenberg. But my name still carries a legacy with it. Daniel was the famous prophet who survived being thrown into a lion’s den. Daniel was steadfast in his faith even when a powerful king ordered him to give up his faith in the God of Israel and then tried to kill him. That is a tough legacy to live up to. My name, Daniel, also means literally, “God is my judge.” Also a pretty daunting moniker to bear.

The Bible is full of names filled with significance and name changes that mark how God is transforming the lives of God’s people. Abram means “great or honored father” and God changed his name to Abraham, which means “father of many.” Sarai means “my princess” and God changed her name to “Sarah” which simply means “princess” showing that she is now a figurehead to many and not just in relationship with her husband, Abraham. Jacob, whose name means “the deceiver” or “the trickster” got ahead in life by tricking others into giving him what he wanted. He tricked his nearly blind father into thinking he was his brother Esau, and stole his blessing, he received his brother’s inheritance by bargaining with a meal when his brother was very hungry, and he schemed his way into taking a huge portion of his uncle’s flock of sheep. In the end, God renames Jacob, Israel, which means “he struggles with God.” Jacob constantly tricked people to get what he wanted, but God met him and gave him the opportunity to tackle his problems head-on.

When Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth returned to her hometown of Bethlehem after having lost her husband and both her sons, she tells her old friends not to call her “Naomi” which means “sweetness,” but to instead call her “Mara” which means “bitterness.”

Saul, has his name changed to Paul signifying his change from a religious persecutor of the church into one of its most influential champions.

Isaiah relates the word of God to a crushed and worried people. The people of Israel had lost a war with the mighty nation of Babylon. The city of Jerusalem was wiped out and the Temple of God was destroyed. Those who survived the war were taken away from their homes and carried off into exile far away in Babylon. They had nothing left of their former lives except their faith that God would not abandon them- and even that faith was shaken. Even years later when they are permitted to go back home and rebuild their home, they run into trouble with smaller nations fighting them and internal conflicts that begin to tear them apart. The people had hoped to return home, but instead they found an empty and hostile land.

In this troubling context, God speaks to the people, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.”

There is nothing left of their homeland, they have few resources, God seems to have abandoned them or failed to protect them in the war with Babylon, their country is in shambles, and they are fighting with their neighbors again. What other name could the people of Israel have given themselves besides Forsaken and what name could have been given to their land besides Desolate? But God changes their name and the name of their land. A name identifies the core of who you are. It carries immense meaning from the past and it represents a hope for the future. For my family, Louis, Lila, Lucas, and Eve Lydia carry a name that represents a hope that the same kindness showed by Luba would be shown to them and that they would share with the world. I, Daniel, carry a name that represents a hope that I would be faithful to where God calls me despite hardships that may accompany such a life.

The names Forsaken and Desolate represent the hopelessness and the pain that has been endured by God’s people. To this God says sternly, “No more.” God turns to the people who have held onto an identity of loss and fear, and gives them a name change. God gives them a new identity with which to identify. They are now My Delight is in Her and their land is Married. God has not abandoned them and their hope for wholeness and peace is not gone. God is not angry with them, but God is delighted to be with her, God’s people. God has married the land- like the vows that are commonly shared between couples, God has promised to love her people for better or for worse, but unlike those vows it is not until death do they part, but even death won’t separate God from God’s people.

What does your name mean? What hopes and promises are associated with it?

But what name have others given you? What name have you given yourself? Dummy? Failure? Not Worth It? Sinner? Forsaken? Desolate?

When we receive those kinds of names from ourselves, our neighbors, or the devil, know that God doesn’t believe that to be your real name. You, like the people of Israel, have been renamed by God, My Delight is in Her and Married. You have been renamed God’s Beloved, Wonderful Child, and Saint. That is the identity we have been given. That is your name. That is God’s promise to you.

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