Note to readers: During Lent Resurrection joins over 140 other congregations in Kansas City and others in Hong Kong and Ghana in reading the entire gospel of Mark. This week we focus on the first 13 verses of Mark, supplemented by the ways Matthew and Luke told parts of the same story.
To watch a video that covers all of this week’s Mark passage, click here.
57 When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a boy. 58 Her neighbors and relatives celebrated with her because they had heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy. 59 On the eighth day, it came time to circumcise the child. They wanted to name him Zechariah because that was his father’s name. 60 But his mother replied, “No, his name will be John.”
61 They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.” 62 Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him.
63 After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, “His name is John.”
Luke, writing after Mark, told a part of the story that wasn’t in Mark. John was born after an angelic announcement to the aged priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who had been childless. Zechariah reacted skeptically to the angel’s words (Luke 1:18-20). But when the baby was born, he obediently named him John. Then he uttered a song of praise to God for the wonder of his son’s vital future mission (Luke 1:67-79).
King Jesus, Zechariah and John focused on bringing glory to you, not themselves. Keep me from being so “full of myself” that I refuse whatever role you call me to play in your great mission. Amen.
So, I’m kind of excited about today’s passage on the meaning of names, because I’m a real nerd about etymology (the origins of words). It’s not uncommon for me to look words up in the dictionary just to see what root word they’re based on, which can lead to some interesting discoveries. For instance, a radish is a root, and when you eradicate something, you destroy it down to its roots. A radical? It’s someone who gets to the root of things.
My name is Brandon Gregory. Gregory comes from a Latin version of a Greek word which means “watchful” or “alert.” That’s my family name, so we didn’t have much choice in the matter. My mom was really intentional with my first name, though. When I was born, my mom was only a few years into her Christian journey and was still discovering all of the things God had laid out for her. So when she, rather unexpectedly, discovered she was pregnant, she wanted to pick a name for her son that played into, or promised, that journey she had started on.
The name Brandon comes from an old English word meaning fire-covered hill. More loosely, this means light on a hill—it’s a light people see from far away. My mom has explained to me many times that that’s what she wanted me to be: a light that people see in the darkness. No pressure, right? I mean, it’d be a lot easier if my name meant “a pretty nice guy” or “reasonably smart.” But that wasn’t what my mom wanted for me; she wanted me to be a beacon of hope like the one that led her to Christ a few years before I was born. I can’t say I always live up to that. There are even times that I don’t want to live up to it. But throughout my life, I’ve always been aware of this, and, when I like it and when I don’t, it’s shaped who I am and who I want to be in life.
I fully realize that not everyone has a name with such thought put into it. Many of us have names simply because our parents liked how they sounded. That’s fine, I don’t want to leave you people out. So let me tell you another story really quick. I’m Tlingit (Alaskan Native) by heritage, and it’s a heritage that was hidden from our family by a white grandmother who didn’t like it. When we discovered this, I spent some time rediscovering my heritage, and part of that was researching Tlingit names. In looking through these names, I picked one that was meaningful to me: Deisleen (pronounced “Teslin”), which literally means “long water,” but is more commonly understood to mean “streams flow out (as a lake).” For me, that’s a name that sums up who I want to be.
If your name is deeply meaningful, hopefully that gives you some direction in life; but if not, please feel free to do like I did in discovering my Tlingit heritage and finding a name that represents who I am and where I want to be in life. You don’t have to legally change your name, or ask anyone to call you by this name. Sometimes, just knowing what you stand for and where you want to go in life can be a powerful thing, and having a say in that, even if it’s just symbolic, can really help you in reaching for what you should be.
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