Text: Isaiah 62:1-5
2 Epiphany, C
Names can be a really great gift or a really terrible curse. Consider how many people spend a lifetime trying to live down the name they've been given. Consider how many others spend a lifetime trying to make a name for themselves. Who here hasn't been hurt by a name? It doesn't just happen on the school yard. No matter what the name was (or is) it can still make you feel bad about yourself. Bearing the weight of a bad name can make you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. Names can change a person, and not always for the better.
In the background to our OT reading, we see a very similar situation. Here was a nation of people who had begun very humbly, as slaves. But God had come and rescued them. He had given them the Promised Land as an inheritance, and He had called them to Himself and gave them the name Israel. But their new-found blessings and prosperity went to their heads. It wasn't enough for them. They felt the world owed them something for all they had been through. No more bricks of mud and straw! From now on it would be piles of Gold and Silver! They wanted to make a name for themselves. King after king, generation after generation looked everywhere and to everything except God for answers. They turned their back on God. And in doing so they too lost everything. The one relationship that truly meant anything was destroyed.
Where once they had been called Israel, God's chosen people, they came to be known as "Forsaken" and "Desolate." They made a name for themselves all right. Just not the kind to be proud of. It was a name born of their pride and sin. And it was a name that came with severe consequences. Their nation was conquered. They were taken captive and deported from the land God had given them. Their name became a thing of shame among the nations. And there was nothing they could do to change it.
Sadly, they're not alone. What happened to them in the pages of the Old Testament is still what happens to everyone who tries get from life what they feel they are owed. It comes with the attitude that I deserve more. Life should be better. Going through hard times or sickness, or persecution just isn’t fair. I’m a good person, I try my best, I’m not like them. God owes me at least this much.
It's what happens to everyone who tries to make a name for themselves. Even if you don’t share that name with others. Even if it’s just the way in which you secretly think of yourself. The name you make is rarely the name you hope for. Money, fame, hard work, or a carefully planned image may work for a while, and in limited circles, but not forever. The truth always surfaces. The past, and your attitudes, and your actions, will always come back to haunt you. That past, goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. They tried to make a name for themselves. A name that would be equal to God Himself. In doing so they destroyed the only true relationship that mattered. They left all future generations, including you and me, with the name Sinner.
The truth is that the world, other people, and God himself, do not owe you what you think you deserve. Get over it. Sinner, the name we were born with, and the name we so often make for ourselves comes with some very tragic consequences. It is a name that can never redeem itself. It is a name that deserves to be forsaken and desolate. Despite all of the coaxing and warning of the prophets like Isaiah, the people of Israel couldn’t remove the name or the stigma of their own sin.
But they weren't stuck with that name forever! In our text God Himself promised to restore their broken relationship, and give them a brand new name to boot! "you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will give" The hope that they looked forward to is the same hope we have already been given! Hope lies not in making a name for ourselves, but in the name that God Himself gave to each of us. It is a name He marked each of us with in our Baptisms. It is His Name. The name we make for ourselves condemns, but the name of Jesus Christ saves! (1Co. 6:11) "But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." We are cleansed of our sin, we are made holy, and right with God only through the name of His Son Jesus.
You see, It is exactly where we fail, where Israel failed, that God sent one who did not fail. And with this Jesus came our vindication and our salvation. Jesus, was God's own Son. He didn't need to make a name for himself, His name was already a name "above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come;" (Eph. 1:21). And yet, this same Jesus came into the world and took on frail human flesh. He did it so that He might trade in His name for ours. He let his name be covered with our guilt and shame. He took our sin upon Himself and was given our name: sinner. On the Cross of Calvary the beloved Son of God became forsaken and desolate in your name, (Mark 15:34) And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He paid the price that the name sinner deserves. He did it to remove the name sinner from you forever.
In Christ, the words of the prophet Isaiah have become reality. "You shall no more be named Forsaken, and your land shall no more be called Desolate; but you shall be called Hephziba, and your land Beulah; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married." (4) Through the sacrifice of Christ, your relationship with God the Father has been perfectly restored. You have been made precious in His eyes. What's more, in Baptism He has made a pledge to be faithful to you forevermore. It is a pledge that He seals every time you read His Word and hear again that He loves you more than life itself. It is a pledge He seals every time He invites you to share in Christ's very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of the faith. And best of all, it is a relationship that will never again rely on the name you try to make for yourself, but the name He is proud to share with you. "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (5)
With God's wonderful gift of salvation comes great responsibility. We no longer bear the name we make for ourselves, but the name of our Redeemer. Live under that new name proudly, for in it you have become the delight of God. In it God has promised continual blessings of love and care, guidance and forgiveness. Rejoice in that new name! Proclaim it to the world, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." You are witnesses of these things, let the "nations see your vindication, and all the kings your glory" (2)
Names really do have the power to change people. Don't let anyone or anything tell you otherwise. Not only for the worse but also for the Best. If that name is God's the change is truly miraculous! Your sin can never again leave you Forsaken, never again will you be left Desolate. In Christ you are now the delight of God Himself, "You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God." (3)