“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Lk. 1:31)
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21)
What child is this? Surely this question was at the forefront of both Mary’s and Joseph’s minds as each sought to comprehend the unexpected visit and shocking message from the angel Gabriel. Mary’s annunciation came during waking hours, likely an ordinary day in Nazareth up to that moment, greatly startling this Jewish teenage girl and forever changing her life.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear 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 to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’” (Lk. 1:26-33, NRSV).
The Greek name Iēsoun (Jesus) is a masculine noun and is the Greek transliteration for the Hebrew name Joshua.[i] In the Hebrew language, this name is יְהוֹשׁוּעַ Yehôwshûwaʿ (Yeshua), which means “Jehovah-saved” or “God saves.”[ii] Jesus’ mission is revealed in his name.
As a teenage Jewish girl so devout in her faith that she “found favor with God” (see Lk. 1:28, 30), Mary would have known the meaning of this name. What must have risen within her thoughts and emotions as she contemplated this news of her role within God’s plan of salvation? Then there was the unavoidable scandal and relational conflict awaiting her. Mary was engaged and now about to become pregnant, yet not with her fiancé’s child. How does a young woman even begin to explain this fantastical account to her betrothed? Dearest, I was visited by an angelic being, and I am pregnant with God’s Son.
Yet we know from Mary’s response that she trusted God in this seismic upheaval of her life. Perhaps this gives insight into why she found favor with God. The posture of her heart was one of submission, trusting the Lord with her whole life.
“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38).
Joseph’s angelic encounter came a few months later, most likely after Mary returned from her three-month visit to her cousin Elizabeth (see Lk. 1:39-40, 56). During a dream, after becoming aware that Mary was pregnant, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to reassure him it was not only permissible to take Mary as his wife but an outright instruction from the Lord. The angel assured him this was part of God’s plan for their lives and the world’s redemption, a fulfillment of prophecy.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,’
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.” (Mt. 1:18-25)
Naming a child. Such a responsibility feels weighty. It is perhaps the most intimidating part of bringing a newborn human into this world aside from the experience of childbirth itself (choosing nursery colors and furnishings comes in a close third for many if we’re being honest). Yet this couple living a simple, peasant life in the “Can-anything-good-come-out-of-Nazareth” town (see Jn. 1:46) would not have to fret over discerning and agreeing upon their firstborn’s name. Because this child is born of God through the Holy Spirit, his Father will confer his name.
Even after receiving these angelic messages, Joseph and Mary’s hearts must have wondered about this child to whom they would give birth and the name Jesus. Would he be different from other children since he is God’s son? How do you even begin to raise God’s son when you are a lowly Jewish carpenter and a teenage girl from Nazareth? How will this child “save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21)? How will the mission of this child affect their own lives? What child is this? No doubt many questions arose as the trimesters ticked by. But amidst the questions, they held a promise: God’s fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah—the one who would save his people from their sins. His name is Jesus.
- Prayerfully using your imagination, enter into this scene and become aware of what it might be like to experience an angelic encounter and message from God. What do you notice, hear, see, feel, smell, do?
- What do you want to ask God as you sit in God’s presence in this story? What response rises within you that you desire to express to God?
- How is your life impacted by a baby to be born whose name is Jesus, which means “God saves?”
Pray: Lord God, I praise you for your steadfast nature and faithfulness to your promises, to your people, no matter how long the wait. Thank you for your holy presence always with me, guiding and declaring your truths to me—when I am aware and even when I am not. Come, Lord Jesus, my Savior. I prepare you room with my whole life. Amen.
Listen: “Celtic Advent Carol.” Words by Michael Barrett. Music by David Angerman & Michael Barrett. Copyright @ 2007, Malcolm Music and GlorySound (divisions of Shawnee Press, Inc., Nashville, TN 37212) Performed by Joy’n’us. Album “Light a Candle.” December 12, 2015 © 2015 28050 ℗ 2015 28050
[i] Logos Bible Software, Exegetical Guide, “Word by Word” (Bellington: Faithlife, LLC , 2022), Luke 1:31.
[ii] Logos Bible Software, Strongs Concordance, Strong’s Hebrew #3091 (Bellington: Faithlife, LLC , 2022).
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.
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