When I was a boy, I found my name kind of annoying. It was different. It had punctuation in it. And everybody seemed to get it wrong or make fun of it. “Devin O-donkey.” “Devin O-doil.” “Devin O-you get the picture.” I got over it. But it was until later that I really began to appreciate my name. I found that the O’Donnell’s were Aristocracy; they were a royal tribe, kings who ruled the northwestern point of Ireland. They had a castle. And the stories that came with this name made me glad to be in this family.
The reason why names and family matter are simple. It involves your identity. Who you are. Who are your people. Consider how popular the search for ancestry through DNA testing has become. People want to where they come from. “Our ancestors were the Maya.” Or, “We come from Icelandic peasant farmers.” Or, “Look, honey, we are descended from a long and prestigious line of headhunters from Papua New Guinea!” Because we have lost meaning in our world, the question of identity and family is a very important question for us today.
One of the best ways to see how the gospel answers this question is to consider the last two weeks on the Church calendar. The Sunday before last was Epiphany, which marks the revelation of Christ to the gentiles. Yesterday was the feast day of the Baptism of our Lord, where Jesus goes to John to be baptized in the river Jordan and God reveals Himself.
Let me take each one of these and break it down.
In Epiphany we celebrate the 3 Magi who travel from the East in search of “he was to be born King of the Jews.” They worship the Christ child and bring him gifts. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah. The remarkable thing about this is that most of us are the gentiles. We weren’t present at Mount Sinai when God made a covenant there with Israel. But in Epiphany we are included in the people of God.
The Baptism of our Lord takes this even further. Why did Jesus have to be baptized? Baptism involves identity. It places you in a family. Although John’s was a baptism of repentance, Jesus was identifying himself with a fallen human race in order to redeem them. In Luke chapter 3, right after the Baptism of Christ is recorded we find another genealogy of Jesus. But instead of tracing his lineage back to Abraham, which is what Matthew does, Luke goes back to the beginning: Jesus is a “son of Adam.” Paul says that “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5). Jesus becomes our representative head, renewing humanity and showing us a new way to live and inviting us into a new family.
What do these things mean for us? It means that God doesn’t just participate in our life. We participate in His life. He has made us for Himself. These two events, Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ, bring us not only into the people of God but into the family of God. And that means that we have a different way of living. A different understanding of authority. We’ll talk about that next time.