Two couples in the church have very recently had their first baby. One is called Jessica. The other is called Fred.
No doubt they ran through a long list of possible names before they chose one they liked AND agreed on. It took ages for me and my wife to agree on names for our children. The ones I liked she hated and the ones she liked I hated, and the ones we both liked Grandma hated! It was usually because this or that name held bad memories from the past, or was a horrible character in a film or on TV.
But some cultures choose names that mean something. We recently did a thanksgiving for a one year old Nigerian. His middle name was 'Obinna' which means 'the father's heart'; and his surname was 'Mgboh' which means 'the bullet is strong'. That surname belongs to his great, great Grandad, who was the one to start using bullets instead of spears and arrows.
When Mary's baby was born 2000 years ago, neither she nor Joseph had any choice in the boy's name. Joseph was told what to call him:
"an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. Because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 2 v 20-21
The name Jesus means 'The LORD saves'. That means Jesus was God's Son – truly God, sent from heaven to save us from the terrible consequences of our sins. This child had a destiny. He was born so he could die on a cross in our place, fulfilling the demands of God's law on our sin, paying in full the penalty owing for all our wrong doing towards God and toward other people.
It's because of Jesus' death that we can be forgiven by God. Instead of facing eternal death, cut off from life with God forever, in a terrible existence called hell, we can look forward to an everlasting future life with God in paradise. This is the promise made by God to all his people. And his people are all those who turn from their old way of life to follow Jesus, putting their faith in his death for the forgiveness of their sins. God has made it so simple for us.
The birth of Jesus was no less real than the birth of Fred and Jessica a few weeks ago. His birth and its meaning were carefully recorded for us in the Bible. We'll be looking more closely into this over Christmas, and celebrating the wonderful thing God has done for us by sending his Son into the world to save us. If you'd like to know more for yourself, just come along any Sunday at 10.30am, or come to one of our Carol Services.