My Name is Jamie – Br. James Koester

James Koester SSJEI couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 at the time. It was a gorgeous summer day and I was out making my rounds of the neighbourhood. I stopped in to see Mr. Ratcliffe who lived three doors down from us. He was a friend and a contemporary of my grandparents and I must have been a frequent visitor to his garden as he wasn’t surprised to see me that day. I headed in through the back gate and found him down on his hands and knees weeding. He greeted me with a smile and called out to me: “Hello Jim!” At that I pulled myself up to my full 3 foot something height, looked him in the face and said sternly, “My name’s not Jim, its Jamie!” And with that I turned around and walked out. Clearly the story got back to my family as it and my reply have become one of the family stories told and remembered frequently over the years. It particularly delighted my father who would push the irony of the story to its limits, because, after all, Mr. Ratcliffe’s name was of course, Jim! And my grandmother’s nickname was, of course, Jim[1]

Names are incredibly important. They not only identify us, but somehow they also describe us. We are, in effect, not only who but also what we are named. If I were Fred, or Patrick, or even Jim … I would not be James. My name is James and that is who and what I am.

That names not only identify but also describe us is especially true in Scripture. Adam and Eve are given names, not only to identify them, and to separate them from the rest of creation, but to describe them as well, for in Hebrew the word for man and dust of the ground are connected, one being a derivative of the other. Adam is not simply his name; it also describes what he is, a man, and, where he is from, the ground.[2]

It is no accident then that the name of God is shrouded in such mystery and awe in Scripture and is regarded as unpronounceable, unspeakable and ultimately unknowable for God is the one thing which humans cannot adequately identify, describe or explain. God is simply God.

What we can do however is to describe aspects of God, for among other things, God creates, God sustains and God redeems. And it is that which we remember today.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.[3]

It was of course no accident that Jesus was given this name, just as your name is no accident. For the name ‘Jesus’ not only identified this baby, it also described him. When my twin brothers were born, and for weeks after, they wore bracelets that said: “Koester Boy A” and “Koester Boy B” because no one, not even my mother, could tell them apart. Had Mary and Joseph simply wanted to identify this baby, they could have put a bracelet on him saying “Joseph’s Son A”! And Joseph’s Son A would most likely have never appeared on the pages of Scripture, in the annals of history or on the lips of billions of people since the angels first sang of his birth. Instead he was given the name Jesus, not simply to identify him, but also to describe him.

 …you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.[4]

Today we remember not simply who this baby is around whose manger we gathered just a few short days ago, but more importantly, what he is.

…you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

We are here today and some of us every day, not because we love babies but because we know our need to be saved. We know our need to be saved from doubt or despair or depression; from jealousy or anger or rage; from panic or prejudice or presumption; from fear or fantasies or failures; from what we do or say or feel about others, and sometimes what we do or say or feel about ourselves. We are here today because at some time or another, at one moment or another each one of us recognized our need of a saviour. We discovered we could not do it alone and it was at that moment the heavens were torn open and we found ourselves terrified like those shepherds listening to the song of the angels who brought “good news of great joy for [us and] all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”[5]

We are here today on this Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, not to remember a baby, but to remember our need and to discover that the God whose name is unpronounceable, unspeakable and ultimately unknowable, is the same God who comes to us in the person of Jesus who knows us, and loves us and ultimately saves us.

…you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

[1] My grandmother, Mavis [Addie] Koester 1897-1987 was called ‘Jim’ by her family because as a child she liked to wear the gardener’s boots. The gardener’s name was Jim. I remember my grandfather often calling her Jim.

[2] Genesis 2:7

[3] Luke 2: 21

[4] Matthew 1: 21

[5] Luke 2: 10, 11

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  1. Nicki Bourne on January 1, 2018 at 14:43

    Thank you Brother James for putting this so simply! We humans are masters at complicating things that have a simple straight forward explanation, because we don’t remember to believe! This beautiful message is a gift I can remember.

  2. Ruth West on January 1, 2018 at 12:36

    I hear of those who hate their names, even to the point of having it changed on birth certificates. I have always liked my name, maybe because my parents so seriously considered it. They said they wanted me to be Ruth or Naomi. Both my first and middle names, Ruth Elizabeth, came from the Bible. However, my maternal grandmother was Elizabeth, too. Mary did not need to mull over what her baby’s name should be. It was settled by the pre-natal instruction of the angel. “Jesus, oh how sweet the name…”
    Thanks for this great Holy Name Sermon, Br. James.

  3. Liberty Ford on January 1, 2018 at 10:44

    I have the fun of a name which is not only a family tradition since the American Revolution but is also another word for freedom or Independence. (I also have a nickname which I love because only people who’ve known me forever use it.) So Liberty is a paradoxical challenge for a Christian to live up to, since in Jesus we are free and yet wholly dependent on mercy. Huh!

  4. James on February 1, 2013 at 23:18

    You say that a name is important, identifying an describing us, and that Jim wouldn’t be appropriate for you. However you still have used two names – James and Jamie. Do you not feel that each of these two names are synonymous and so exempt from the rule? I ask because I am called James but also get called Jamie and Jim!

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