The Many Names for God

Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Of the greatness of his government and peace

    there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

    and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

    with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

Three years ago, on Christmas Eve, I was Very Pregnant. The kind of pregnant where, despite the cold Massachusetts winter, I had given up lacing my boots or wearing anything other than leggings. My sleep was disturbed on a 1000 fronts: heartburn, baby gymnastics, comfort, to name a few. For over a week, I could feel my body practicing, rehearsing for the birth. My own schedule had been cleared of any other sort of practice and rehearsing; although a music director at a church, I was not working on Christmas Eve. Yes, it was because my due date was Christmas Day, and yes, I had been planning for parental leave, but it still felt foreign. Added to that disruption the growing anticipation over who exactly we’d meet on the Birth Day.  We chose to “be surprised,” and didn’t know who we would greet. Little boy names and little girl names were passed back and forth between my husband and I. We were… far from a decision.

So on that very different Christmas Eve, I worshiped in the pews at the 10 p.m. service at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I sat at the back of the sanctuary for two reasons: first, I needed a quick exit in case of pregnant body needs, and two, the organ was in the back and I wanted to watch the organist. But that evening, surprisingly, it wasn’t so much the music I remember as the sermon. Sitting there that night, my body went into another rehearsal. Right as the Brother began talking about the tiny baby coming into the world. It felt more than a little prescient, given what he was saying at that moment:

“We gather tonight before this crèche to behold a mystery: the mystery of God, so tiny and helpless, that he can offer nothing to us, except His love; so tiny and helpless, that he can demand nothing from us, except our love. Here, before us, lies God, who wants only to love us, caring not that we may feel ourselves unworthy of such love. Here before us lies God, who wants only our love, caring not that we may feel ourselves unable to love so purely.” Br. James Koester

Demanding our love. I think many of us feel this in relation to the children in our lives with both great joy and great terror. I was terrified/overjoyed to become a mom. I bet even Mary, mother of Jesus, would have appreciated a pep-talk as she was giving birth herself to a tiny, vulnerable baby. I did not in fact go into labor that night (believe me: no church worker wants to give their child the same birthday as their busiest work day!). In fact, after the service, I even managed to clumsily knee down to light a candle and pray in the chapel. The act garnered some attention, because between my small size and due date, strangers could safely tell that I was nearing my time, and were eager to take part in more Christmas-baby-welcoming.  I then went home to wait another five days of Gigantic Pregnancy before Theodore finally arrived.
Naming a child can be difficult. Jesus came to us with many names. Four from our Isaiah passage. Three additional honorifics in Luke 1 when the angel announces the news to Mary. Throughout the whole Bible, we are given many, many names for God: I AM, King of Kings, Jesus, Son of God, Our Father, Abba, Prince of Wholeness. We had enough trouble settling on ONE name (Theodore means gift of God, I SWEAR that my husband and I had settled on that one for a boy; he remembers differently). But when it is all said and done, we all only have one name: Beloved. The Scriptures assigned for Christmas Eve assure us that God loves us, strengthens us to do good, and judges us fairly and lovingly. The vastness of this mystery inspires so many names for God, because no single human name can capture the fullness of God’s grace in naming US (yes, YOU) beloved. As Br. Koester proclaimed to me, on the eve of childbirth three years ago, that tiny baby came into the world to love and be loved. Great is the mystery of faith.

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