What a wonderful start to 2012.

Manchester Utd lose at home to bottom-of-the-table Blackburn Rovers. Then Manchester City lose to a last-gasp goal by Sunderland. Add to that the return of Steven Gerrard to Liverpool’s growing-in-confidence team and the sun is already shining though the clouds of a Yorkshire winter.

But, there’s more.

Since Bradford City FC came to the Cathedral for the Carol Service they have been scoring goals and winning. I’m just saying…

Anyway, today saw me standing in for the poorly Dean of Bradford in the Cathedral pulpit and thinking aloud about God’s knack of changing people’s names. To understand ‘Jesus’ we have to go back to the beginning and God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis.

  • Abram becomes Abraham and is called to be a blessing to all peoples. Not just himself and his own nearest and dearest. Not just his own tribe or class or race. Not just those who are like him.
  • His wife Sarai laughs at God when she is old that God likes to bring new life where it all looks a bit dead – fertility out of barrenness, newness after loss (as Brueggemann put it). She calls her son Isaac – laughter opens the door to a future.
  • Jesus might well ‘save his people from their sins’, but what does that mean – even when we hear it from an angel? The clue lies in Abram and that invitation to be a blessing.

God’s people are to live and give their lives in order that other people might see who God is and what he is about. Failure (despite the warnings of the prophets) led to the loss of all that spoke of God’s presence. Jesus fulfils the calling that was always the calling of God’s people – and lives and gives his life in order to show the world who and how God is. His church is then called to bear his name – that is, to reveal in its life, priorities, values and character the life, priorities, values and character of the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. In other words, the Body of Christ is to be … er … the ‘body of Christ’ – that when people see, hear and touch ‘us’, they see, hear and touch something of the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.

Simple. If only.

But, this is the only test of authenticity the Christian Church has. And, if we take it seriously, we must face the challenge of allowing everyone else a change of name that opens up a future and doesn’t condemn people to being trapped by their past or present. That is grace and it is what Jesus does all the time for those who have been allowed to believe that Immanuel is God for some people, but not for them.

Anyway, all that came out of Luke 2:21 and the naming of Jesus in the Temple. Unfortunately, the sermon began with me showing a paperweight my in-laws gave me for Christmas about ten years ago (and which I still use on my desk) which tells me that Nicholas means ‘Victory of the people’ and ‘thinks winning thoughts’. We’re still looking for that one…

So, a start to 2012 that involves good football results and a renewed challenge to be Christ-ian. OK for starters, I think. (And sympathy to fans of the Manchester clubs. Er… Hmmm.)