For two days now, this blog has paid particular attention to the power of name. This is very much in keeping with the Biblical tradition that treats naming with great seriousness. In the Old Testament stories, especially, we are often given the specific meaning of the name of a person or place in order to make it very clear that names mean something. From Adam (Heb. for Man) and Eve (Heb. for Life) to Israel (Heb. for God prevails) at Peniel (Heb. for Facing God) the Scriptures are rich with names and their meaning. The Christian tradition has followed suit in this. In Baptism, the neophyte is named. Ordination was traditionally an opportunity for a name change. Even to this day, Bishops are allowed to carry the name of the See City as their last name, should they choose (I’m looking at you Justin Cantuar).
While names are of significant importance, so are titles. Whether one is called king or prophet makes a whole lot of difference. Paul relied heavily on his title as Apostle, even if he felt he had to justify it with regularity. In modern times, there is the ongoing debate between the various titles that clergy can carry: Father/Mother, Sister/Brother, Pastor, Preacher, Doctor, etc; although we should all agree that Reverend is grammatically incorrect and should never be used (The Reverend being appropriate only as written honorific), but I digress.
I bring up the importance of not only name, but title as well because Matthew seems very intentional to set this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, the very abridged story of Jesus’ birth in the context of name: Jesus and Emmanuel as well as title: Messiah. In fact, one could argue that the whole of Matthew’s Gospel is wrapped up in the title Messiah. Verse 1 of chapter 1 says it all, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The same happens here at the opening of this passage, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.”
Messiah isn’t the word Matthew used. It is the Hebrew version of the word that Matthew put into Greek as “Christ.” Either way, the meaning remains the same. Jesus is the Anointed One, with the capital letters used very intentionally. Others have carried the title anointed one: kings were anointed with oil as a symbol of God’s blessing upon their reign, but Jesus is the Anointed One, the King of kings, the one, chosen of God, to rule for eternity. Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus, God saves. Messiah/Christ, the Anointed One. In one brief story that skips the details of the birth narrative that Linus has made so famous, Matthew makes it clear that the infant we are dealing with is God’s Anointed One, and more than that, he is the very God who has come to walk among us in order that we might be saved.