During this season of Advent, the Emerging Scholars Network invites you to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth by encountering his names throughout the birth narrative while asking, “What child is this?” Names are intimate and defining. If you have ever named anything such as an animal, something which you created, a nickname for a loved one, a car, or especially a child, you know well with what care and intentionality a good name is chosen and given. In the birth narrative of Jesus, beginning with the prophecies of his coming in the Old Testament and rising to its climax in the Gospels at the nativity, Christ is given a variety of names, each pregnant with meaning. Let’s explore some of these natal names of Christ together throughout Advent.
What child is this? We embark on our Advent journey of preparation by exploring an ancient name for Christ—the Lord. The Hebrew word ā·ḏônʹ (Adoni) is a masculine noun referring to a lord or master, or to God. It denotes someone who is a ruler, a sovereign, a controller, or an owner. In our English Old Testament, it is usually translated as “Lord.”[i]
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. … Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes”(Mal. 3:1; 4:5, NRSV, emphasis added).
In Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament, we read these words of prophecy declared to Israel, informing them that the long-awaited prophet Elijah is returning to prepare the way for the Lord to come to his people. Luke picks up where Malachi left off, with the angel Gabriel bursting onto the scene to declare the good news of the fulfillment of this prophecy to the priest Zechariah. Not only is the Lord about to finally appear, but Zechariah and Elizabeth’s long-awaited hope of a child is about to be fulfilled.
The Greek word kyriō (Kyrie) is a masculine noun meaning Lord, Ruler, or One who commands. It denotes someone who has supremacy or is a supreme, controller, master, God, or Lord. In our English New Testament, it is usually translated as “Lord.”[ii]
“He [John] will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him [Jesus], to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”(Lk. 1:17, emphasis added).
What incredible news! So incredible was this news, in fact, that Zechariah the priest couldn’t believe or comprehend it. Therefore, he was silenced by the angel, remaining mute until the birth of their son. But his wife Elizabeth, great with child and full of the Holy Spirit, had much to say about these two babies growing in utero—the messenger and the Lord. As young Mary approaches their home full of the promise given to her by the angel Gabriel and the child developing within her, traveling in faith to see her elder cousin for spiritual companionship, Elizabeth breaks forth with a glorious proclamation.
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy’”(Lk. 1:41-44, emphasis added).
How Zechariah’s doubts must have fled with the growing girth of his mature-in-years wife and this maternal scene of Spirit-filled confirmation! When later given the opportunity to clarify the confusion over their child’s name, Zechariah writes out “John,” just as the angel had instructed him to name the child. At this act of obedience, Zechariah’s mouth bursts wide open with joyful declaration, and his tongue is loosed with praise. Zechariah sings over his newborn son a blessing that Christians have declared throughout the ages, the “Benedictus,” ensuring that his son John will know the sacred mission for which he was created. In this small portion, Zechariah calls the holy child in Mary’s womb, the soon-to-be-born cousin of John, “the Lord.”
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins”(Lk. 1:76-77, emphasis added).
Malachi, Gabriel, Elizabeth, and Zechariah all declare that the Lord is coming, and in so doing refer to Jesus as “Lord.” God gave an oracle to the messenger who wrote Malachi (Mal. 1:1). God sent the angel Gabriel with a message to Zechariah (Lk. 1:5-17). The Holy Spirit revealed a message to Elizabeth through the child’s movement within her womb (Lk. 1:39-45). What was this message that kept playing on repeat? The Lord is coming! What child is this? His name is the Lord!
- Which of these biblical characters—Zechariah, Elizabeth, or Mary—do you most relate to in their receiving of and responding to the fantastical birth announcements given to them? Why?
- As you contemplate this message of the coming holy child who is Lord, what do you feel, sense, wonder, notice, or hear?
- How might God be inviting you to “prepare the way for the Lord” in your own life and heart this Advent season?
Pray: Lord Jesus, thank you for coming into your creation as a newborn full of hope and wonder with human needs, even though you are Lord over all. Help me to prepare the way for you to come this Advent season in my life and in my corner of the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Listen: “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Arranged, written, and performed by Wilder Adkins, November 16, 2018 © 2018 Wilder Adkins ℗ 2018 Wilder Adkins.
[i] Logos Bible Software, Exegetical Guide, “Word by Word” (Bellington: Faithlife, LLC , 2022), Malachi 3:1.
[ii] Logos Bible Software, Exegetical Guide, “Word by Word” (Bellington: Faithlife, LLC , 2022), Luke 1:17, 44, 77.
About the author:
Julie Meissner is the Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, developing and curating retreats and spiritual formation resources for the holistic flourishing of all InterVarsity staff. She is a spiritual director, seminary student, and house mom at Abba's House refugee ministry, which she co-founded with her husband Michael, a pastor. They have two adult children—a son who works cattle in West Texas and a daughter studying biology at Baylor, as well as one high school son still in the nest, along with their menagerie of farm animals and the community garden in Cypress, TX.