The Power of Names

On Christmas morning, I know that my kids will race down the stairs in a flurry of joy and anticipation to find the gifts under the tree marked with their name.

Some have said that your name is the most important word in the world to you. And as my kids actively search for their presents, they would probably agree.

We may not think twice about putting a gift tag on the presents we give. But the significance of being known—of having a name and of someone knowing that name—cannot be underestimated. More than anything under the tree, being known and loved is the most remarkable gift we could hope to give or receive this Christmas.

Invisible People

In the 1990s, the World Bank asked sixty thousand men and women living in material poverty to describe poverty in their own words. One of the most haunting responses came from an individual in Pakistan: “We poor people are invisible to others… Just as blind people cannot see, they cannot see us.”

More than the food scarcity, unclean water, or lack of education, poverty—at its core—is the feeling of being invisible. Unknown.

And too often, we perpetuate this problem; we lump all “the poor” into one category and forget that each person has a name and a story. Rather than seeing people as image-bearers of Christ, we assign labels. Where God sees beautiful individuals, we see a sea of brokenness. Where God sees sons and daughters, we see categories of low-income or lesser developed. And we unintentionally reinforce this idea that some people are unknown and convey that not all people are worth knowing.

Taken to an extreme, this dehumanization is deadly. When I started Christ-centered development work in Cambodia and then Rwanda, I began to understand, on a small scale, the genocides that had consumed nations. These atrocities start with the denial of names, with an underlying belief that some people are worth knowing and others are simply less valued. Men and women were no longer identified by their names, but by symbols, numbers, or derogatory labels.

An Uncommon King

This kind of injustice isn’t new. In fact, it’s against this backdrop that our Savior was born. In his gospel, Matthew records that at the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod gave orders to kill all baby boys (two years old and under) in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

How powerful that our King was born in that moment—into a time and place racked with isolation and fear, pain and loss, hopelessness and namelessness. Instead of a king who didn’t see value, a King who valued the unseen. Instead of a king who ruled with an iron fist, a King who led as the Prince of Peace. Instead of a king driven by fear to kill, a King driven by love to die.

It was as if God was saying to His people—long feeling abandoned and unknown—I see you, I value you, I know you. I am Emmanuel, God with you.

My hope is that as you gather with your loved ones this Christmas season, you would celebrate the gift of being known. And that together, you might see the worth and dignity of all people as you focus on Jesus: our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Isaiah 43:1

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