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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: December 25, 2016
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during the Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016.
What's in a name? Parents spend a lot of time deciding what name to give their children. Some choose unique names or unusual spelling because they want their children to feel special. Others name them in honor of beloved relatives, living or dead.
My middle name is Basil, which is also the name of my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather. That's what people expected John the Baptist's parents to do. When informed that the name would be John, they said: "But there is no one among your relatives who has this name!"
But what is distinctive about the names we encounter in the Christmas story is that they all mean something in Hebrew and they generally reveal something about the person's role in God's plan.
We have that Savior — he is Jesus, whose very name means God saves. He was born on Christmas. Welcome him into your heart. The darkness will dissipate and his light will grow in you and fill you with hope, meaning and purpose the more you conform your life to his. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the light that is stronger than any darkness we will ever have to face.
First we have John the Baptist's father, Zechariah. Zechariah means "God remembers" and it is through him that we see that God has remembered the promises he has made through the prophets — this was before the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to invite her to be the mother of the Savior.
God appeared to Zechariah while offering the sacrifice in the Temple, informing him that despite his old age and Elizabeth's barrenness — Elizabeth means "God fulfills" (meaning his promises) — despite the impossibility, they will have a son. God has remembered them!
They were to name this son John, which means "God is merciful.” This reflects the fact that when he becomes an adult, God will use John to prepare the way for the coming of the long awaited Messiah. He will do this through a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins — God's mercy for sinners — and this proclamation that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
And then there is Jesus himself, whom Scripture also calls Emmanuel. We use the Greek form of his name, Jesus, but the Hebrew form of his name that he actually went by was Joshua, which means "God saves" and reflects the fact that Jesus is our Savior.
Emmanuel means "God is with us" and reflects the fact that our Savior is God himself who has become man in the person of Jesus. The salvation God will accomplish for us begins in earnest on Christmas with God taking on flesh (and indeed the full human condition) in order to save us and redeem us.
He will pay the price required to set us free — that is what redemption is — buying our freedom through his sacrificial death, whereby he atoned for our sin and broke the power of Satan, sin and death.
Today we live in a world in which even non-believers celebrate Christmas, and in which even many who call themselves Christians don't really feel a need for a Savior. They either don't feel lost — are blind to how out of whack their lives are — or at least don't expect God to be enough interested in them to do much about it.
This is one of the reasons why our world seems so much darker today than it did only a few years ago ... on top of the fact that objectively speaking, things really are a lot worse than they were.
Think of the loss of civility and respect in public discourse — and the depths to which we sunk during the presidential campaign — the hateful sentiments expressed and the threatening rhetoric.
Today many people fear for their own future and for the future of our world. Think of refugees worldwide fleeing for their lives who face closed borders and cold hearts. What would have happened if the Egyptians had refused entry to the Holy Family when they had to flee Bethlehem to save their son's life?
Think of the breakdown of the family and of morality and the loss of hope among so many people. Alienated people who medicate their loneliness and hopelessness with drugs, promiscuity and other compensations.
Wealthy people who seek comfort in the accumulation of possessions that can never fill the emptiness they feel inside. We need a Savior. Today I proclaim to you a message of hope: We have that Savior — he is Jesus, whose very name means God saves.
He was born on Christmas. Welcome him into your heart. The darkness will dissipate and his light will grow in you and fill you with hope, meaning and purpose the more you conform your life to his. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the light that is stronger than any darkness we will ever have to face.