by Halcyon Bjornstad
Often, when I introduce myself as Pastor Halcyon, people assume that Halcyon is my last name. In college, people I met presumed that I was a foreign exchange student from Norway. I was complimented on how well I spoke English. When I meet people for the first time, they tend to ask about the origin of my name and how to spell it.
Our names are an important part of who we are. Names are the way that people get our attention and address us. When someone uses your name, you feel seen. Your name is personal to you and important for those around you to know.
Names are important in the Bible too. God calls out to people by name. Take Saul (as in “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”) in Acts 9. There is no mistaking that God is talking to Saul.vAfter Saul turns away from persecuting Christians, his transformation is so complete that he takes on the new name of Paul.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus calls by name even the people he seemingly shouldn’t have known by name. What need would Jesus have had to know Zacchaeus, a tax collector and known sinner? Yet when Jesus arrives in Jericho, he calls Zacchaeus by name and spends time with him (Luke 19). And what does Jesus do when people have a hard time recognizing him? Jesus uses their names, and in doing so, reveals who he is, as he did for Mary in the garden after his resurrection (John 20).
We remember just how important names, including “child of God,” are in baptism, when we are claimed and reminded that we belong to God. What a powerful, life-changing promise! The One who has the power to calm the sea (Mark 4:35-41), heal the sick (Luke 17:11-19), give sight to the blind (John 9:6-7) and raise the dead (John 11) is the same One who creates, protects and calls you by name.
Isaiah 43:1 states: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” As we walk through
Advent, during a season of uncertainty, is there any more comforting thought than the knowledge that God has called us by name? The next time you hear your name, remind yourself of these words from Isaiah. You are God’s. God not only protects you but provides for you. Dangers and troubles may come, but they will not get the final word.
Let Scripture speak to you, promising the peace that you may have given up on, the justice that seems out of reach and the mercy that seldom seems to exist in our broken world. Know that God is still bringing about all these things, in new ways. Lean into the promise of new life for our church, ourselves and our neighbors near and far.
Halcyon Bjornstad serves as a pastor at New Life Lutheran Church in Helena, Montana. She is a graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.