Advent Week 2: Names Carry Identity

Names carry an identity of who we are. During the first week of Advent I mentioned that our pastor and friend Jack Brace and Moses Ndahiro (Rwandan friend) taught on Luke 1 to kick off the Advent season. One of the things they reminded us of is the honor, as a parent, of getting to name a child. Names are especially important in the African culture. Ndahiro kept repeating three things over and over about the impact of names, especially names with Biblical meaning:

(Each time the name is said) 1The parents would remember the truth about their child. 2That the child would always remember who they are. 3That others who proclaim their name would be proclaiming the Gospel

In Luke 1:39 the Angel Gabriel tells Mary what she is going to name her child. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” Not only did Mary not know she was going to be pregnant, she didn’t even get to name the kid! Apparently that was ok with her, especially since her sons name meant, “God saves.” I guess it’s hard to argue with that one.

I’ve mentioned before that our first daughter’s names came from the Lord. In the spirit of being a gentleman Anna chose if we were going to find out what we were having with our first child. Once she got pregnant the second time it was my turn to choose! I like to be surprised so we opted not to find out what we were having. This made it a little difficult to come up with a name for our second child. Since the Lord had been so clear about our first daughters’ name, I was confident that He would do the same with our second child. I was kayaking with my buddy Ryan when my wife was 7 months pregnant with our second. I didn’t set out from shore that day with the intent that I would get the name, but God spoke clearly to me just as we finishing a long day of paddling. What I heard was, “You are having a son and his name will be Elijah.” I know, this could sound a little creepy, but I am telling the truth. Once we got all of the gear out of our kayak and set up camp I headed off to a clearing with my Bible to remind myself of the biblical meaning of Elijah’s name.

After reorienting myself with the story of Elijah from 1 Kings on the paddling trip I was excited to name our second child Elijah, which means The Lord He is God! Elijah’s belief is in the Biblical story is remarkable! Over and over again he is asked to believe that the Lord is God and is in control. Elijah’s belief in action is such a wonderful model of how we can live and walk through life. Mary was asked to do the same in her conversation with Gabriel and she too believed.

After my kayak trip, with excitement about Elijah’s name, there was now only one hurdle to climb, which was similar with our daughter. I had to go home and tell Anna what happened. I agree it was a stretch, after all, we still hadn’t found out the gender and there was no plan to find out until the child breathed a first breath. Over the next two months Anna and I got more comfortable with the belief that we were having a son. We didn’t have any girl names in mind when we made our way for her to deliver the child. I was proud and my faith increased even more as I heard those words, “It’s a boy.”


Advent: What is your response?

Even though our family had a rough start to Advent, I am settling in and excited about this season. My friend and pastor Jack Brace inspired us Sunday when he preached at Bethany Community Church. He and our church partner from Rwanda taught together about a few key moments in Zachariah (John the Baptist’s dad) and Mary’s life. Specifically, Jack pointed out that the angel Gabriel visited both Zechariah and Mary. Check out their different responses:

Zechariah first response was tarassō. It’s a Greek word that is used 17 times in the New Testament. It is translated best as taking away someone’s calmness of mind. So Zechariah first response to Gabriel’s visit was that his calmness of mind was taken away. His second response is what he actually said the Gabriel. Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18) Do you see it? Zechariah’s response was unbelief. How can I be sure of this is basically saying, I can’t believe this is happening. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words.

Ok, now look at Mary’s response to Gabriel’s visit:

Mary’s first response is diatarassō. It’s a Greek word that is used exactly 1 time in the New Testament . Yeah, once. It is best translated as greatly troubled. So Mary’s first response to Gabriel’s visit was that she was greatly troubled, yet in wonder of what this might be. Her second response is what she actually said the Gabriel . “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Mary responds with belief!!! What, seriously, look at it. “How WILL this be…” (so I geeked out on the Greek more than our pastor did here in this blog), but Jack made this statement that has been with me all week:

“Mary response is, ‘I can’t understand how this is happening, but I accept that it is happening.’”

Boom! If that could become our response to whatever comes at us this Advent season, we move a little further down the path to living the full life God has for us.


Advent…Not the Perfect Start

Ok, full truth…Advent snuck up on us this year. I am usually pretty calculated. I think I became accustomed to the late Advent start the past few years, but as it were. Here we go.

Despite not realizing it was Advent until we got to church yesterday, we still managed to participate in our family Advent rituals at home, namely the kids playing with the nativity scene, a few Christmas songs and the lighting of the first Advent candle. By the way, how many names can be given to the first candle of Advent, or any of the candles for that matter?

Names for the 4 candles depending on which faith tradition is naming them:

Promise, Light, Love, Hope

Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

Prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherd, Angel

Hope, Preparation, Joy, Love

Prophecy, Way, Joy, Peace

Expectation, John the Baptist, Mary, Magi

Waiting for the Shepherd, Waiting for Forgiveness, Waiting for Joy, Waiting for the Son

There is a lot of use of the word “waiting” in the last naming. I guess that is a good thing since Advent is the season of waiting.

This scene describes the kick off of Advent pretty well for our family…


The Nativity “team” is a little out of sorts. Animals on their side or upside down, stoic camel, Jesus out of the turned over manger and nowhere to be seen, a wise man in the distance staying away from the chaos…at least Gabriel the Angel is overseeing the confusion.

With Anna finishing her first quarter of grad school studying for finals, kids coming off of 9 days with no school and dad fighting off his tendency to control the outcome of this important kickoff to the Advent season, we appreciated that the Nativity “team” didn’t have it all together either. So, despite our less than ideal beginning, we are doing Advent anyway. I am planning my usual few post a week during the season, and look forward to learning along the way.

Our plan this year for Advent readings:

First Sunday of Advent Luke 1: 5-25 (did this one on the fly and it worked out)

Second Sunday of Advent Luke 1:26-38

Third Sunday of Advent Luke 1:39-56

Fourth Sunday of Advent Luke 1:67-80

Fifth Sunday of Advent (Christmas Day! Luke 2:1-24)

Perfect starts to anything are way overrated.