- When a couple is expecting, one of the fun preparations is to come up with a name for the baby. Before the advances in ultrasound, parents had to have at least a name for a boy and a girl. Some parents decide to wait to meet their newborn face to face before deciding on a name. Whichever way itʼs decided, most people would agree that a name can have a powerful affect on a personʼs life.
We gave each of our children Biblical names which help to point them towards role models who lives reflect Godʼs love. For two of them, they also were named after relatives; my eldest son and daughter share their first name with great-grandparents. Sometimes names are much more than we expected. When I named my daughter Mary Angela, we never imagined that her namesake and adopted grandma, Angela Mary would die suddenly, just one month after our daughterʼs birth. The last words Angela spoke to me were about making Christmas cookies with my kids. “It doesnʼt matter how they come out, Eileen. Just enjoy your children. They grow so fast.” Twenty years later, Angelaʼs wisdom is still with me especially when I see Mary Angela smile.
Johanna was named after St John the Baptist; the prophet who prepared the way for the Lord. My birthday falls one week before Christmas. On that day, as Advent draws to a close, the daily readings from scripture focus on the conception of John the Baptist. In a very real way, this scripture came alive for me on my 33rd birthday as I held a positive pregnancy test kit in my hands and read:
“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17.
I knew on that day that the baby in my womb was called by God in a special way to lead others to the Lord. In sharing this with my husband and children, we decided that the baby would be named John or Johanna, a name meaning “God’s gracious gift.”
Celebrating my 50th birthday this past week, I recognized a convergence of signs that I had previously missed. As I read this scripture again, I thought of how Johanna fulfills her calling to make peoplesʼ hearts ready for the Lord. Her example of joy in suffering and the unconditional love she bestows on others, is a witness to the Lord. On this 50th birthday, I also was thinking about my own name Eileen, which is Irish for “light” and my maiden name, Devine. I grew into that name slowly, as I grew in my relationship with the Lord and realized that God called me from the womb to be a messenger of Divine light to the world. On my 33rd birthday, God showed me His gracious gift in my womb and also asked me to take up my cross to follow Him. Raising children with special needs can be the greatest blessings in our lives, while it is also a cross that we take up daily. This year I was very aware that I am most profoundly a vessel of Divine light is by loving and serving Johanna. She is Godʼs gracious gift who, like John the Baptist, is a herald of Christ and draws many people to the Lord.
This week, we celebrate the greatest sign and wonder of God come to us in the birth of Jesus. The Old Testament prophecies of salvation are fulfilled in Jesus, whose name means “God saves.” The many titles of Jesus throughout the Bible remind us that Godʼs plan for salvation was revealed and realized in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No other name for Jesus says this so well as Emmanuel.
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” Matthew 1:23.
Christmas is a sign from God in the birth of Emmanuel to remind us that “God is with us.” If we let Him, the Holy Spirit will stir our hearts to recognize the gift that is in this Name; Emmanuel. Christmas is unlike any other birthday we celebrate. Christmas, the birth of Christ is the literal sign that God dwells with humanity. He became one of us so that we may know that He is always with us.
This Christmas, consider this profound revelation of love and recall the name “Emmanuel.” Let Emmanuel sink in to your subconscious, conscious thoughts and into your heart. Let God speak to you through that Name so that you can grasp this truth; God is with us. He is with us in our joys. He carries us in our sufferings and He is longing to show us His love.
This Christmas, I pray you can receive the gift of Emmanuel and come to know that God is with you. Have a blessed and merry Christmas!
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 17-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.