For the first thirteen plus years of my life I was known as Jody, and depending on where you go today, at times I am still called that. There was a time when I almost despised that name. It sounded to me like a girl’s name and the only other Jody I knew was from the old TV show “Family Affair” and that Jody was in my opinion a sissy, and what boy wants to be known as that? So, I changed it to Joe. It sounded manlier and was also the name of the best man I know, my dad. From then on, I wanted to be called Joe.
One of the most prized possessions a person has is their name, and when we really want to know someone, we start by learning their name. It says something about a person when they care enough to learn your name. Years ago, when I was a youth pastor in Hopkinsville, a couple of our students wanted to change what they were being called. Johnny wanted to become John and Gregoria asked to be called Goria, Gloria or even GG, so I did my best to refer to them by the name they preferred at the time. Each name represents a stage of life they were in or a stage of life they wanted to leave behind. I drew the line though when Tommy wanted to be referred to as T-Rad.
Scripture is full of people whose names were changed: Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Paul became Saul. When they followed Christ, they became a new person. They had a new identity, and the name changed acknowledged that new identity.
When God told the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) about the coming Messiah, and said: Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. The name mattered. Immanuel means God with us, and that is exactly what Jesus would be.
And in the first chapter of Luke (Luke 1:31-33), when the angel Gabriel told Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”, it mattered. God was announcing to the world that the long-awaited Messiah was coming.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, The apostle Paul tells us, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! When we become a follower of Christ, we become a new person. Our allegiance is no longer about what is best for me, but what does Christ want from me.
Christmas gives us ample opportunities to come together as family and friends. We will relive old memories, hopefully make new ones, and grow deeper in our relationships with one another.
I know that in the next few weeks as we gather to celebrate the holidays, I will be called Jody way too many times to count. But that’s okay. The people that call me that have known me the longest, and after all they’re family and being part of a family matters.
May we experience the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God this Christmas season.
Joe Ball is the Pastor at First Baptist Church — Sixth and Main Streets in Russellville.