Naming God (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Chris Nye
7 min readDec 20, 2019
“The Angel Arrives to Joseph” (artist unknown)

“In becoming so available to the world, God is to some degree at the disposal of those who can name the name. God’s name may be misused and abused as well as honored. For God to give the name is to open himself up to hurt.”

- Terence Fretheim

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;

Hail, th’ incarnate Deity:

Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,

Jesus, our Emmanuel!

-Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

When public figures of the day name their children Apple or Audio Science, one can easily conclude that names serve only for the function of individuality. What matters most to a new life born in a society void of meaning is their singularity — and that’s it.

The leaders of the modern Western, secular world find no connection to the past, or if they do, they find it bloodstained and complicated. After so many have gone before us with common names, committing various sins and crimes, we decide to sever ourselves from the past and begin naming our children after appliances and fruit. Naming a child “John” (in the secular viewpoint) is to attach them to slaveowners and rid them of any individuality because “there are already so many Johns.”

The Biblical world was nearly opposite. To name your child was not to provide for themselves a unique identity, but to provide them a connection to their collective identity. You were given your name not to separate yourself from your community or past, but to tie you to it. Of course, many non-Western and non-secular cultures continue this practice today.

The Christmas story gives us a window into the naming process of Jesus, when an angel visits Joseph in the gospel of Matthew:

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she…

Chris Nye

Living in Portland, Oregon with my wife and son. Doctoral candidate at Duke University. Author of a few books: