God's Unlikely Voice

"Last year we had 16,000 people come through here over the four days," a volunteer at the door of Harvester Christian Church's Journey to Bethlehem told us. "This year we think it's way down. It always depends on the weather." Right outside the door we had just walked through, a gentle rain was slowly wetting those still waiting in the line. It had rained off and on all the way to the church and, since we knew it took 45 minutes of walking outside to go through the Bethlehem trip, the sound of raindrops splattering against the windshield like a flock of clumsy bugs worried us. Mary and Joseph must have had to deal with some weather on their trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, I told myself, but did we have to experience all the unpleasant details to appreciate the good part?

The cast of the Bethlehem story stressed at every stop that the groups of people they were leading along the path were all family. While we the audience had little part of the play itself, we had been given Hebrew names, with the English translation at the top, then the Hebrew letters and the original pronounciation. Below that was a list of facts about each person; his or her family, the meaning of the name, and the role each played in the community. Andrew was a "warrior scribe" at the beginning, but traded with Riley almost right away to become a fisherman. My name was John, son of Joel, a musician, of the tribe of Judah.

My senior pastor's daughter was along on this trip and came up to me during cookies and hot chocolate to ask a question. "What would Mary and Joseph have called Jesus?" I thought back to the Aramaic name used in "The Passion of the Christ" and explained that his name would have been pronounced "Yeshua." She looked me straight in the eye, a sure sign that a serious question is on the way. "Why don't we call him what his parents called him?"

I hope that only the inside of my face frowned. It's tough being shown up by an eighth grader. But, like Moses, "would that all my students were prophets and the Lord would fill them with His spirit."

"It has to do with the way the name was translated," I went on. "From Aramaic to Latin, and then Latin to English, it comes out as Jesus." The next sentence was my udoing. "When people learn a language, they're lazy. They like to have all the words in their own language rather than learning another one at the same time." Please laugh with me at how silly I sound when I'm not listening.

"But doesn't English have words from Latin and Spanish and German and all the others?" she asked. Sure enough, it does. Many of them are brought directly from the original language and either given a new pronounciation or left just as they were. What *are* they teaching in the schools these days? My theory about Jesus' name has a big hole in it, and this student knows my answer is not good enough.

I promised to find out more about Jesus' name. And it made me think today. What other words are we letting slip? One of my mother's favorite phrases when I was growing up was "words have meaning!" She would use this any time one of us said something we didn't really intend or made an inappropriate response to a question. She wanted us to know that even if we didn't mean them to, words are powerful and can hurt people, or build them up in false ways.

"Awesome." How many things are truly awesome? Is a movie really so great and powerful that we are a little afraid of it in the midst of our passion?
"Wrong." A phrase I hear a lot is "that's just wrong!" When my mother used the word "wrong" you knew a line had been crossed. Does our sense of what is right degrade when we use its opposite so lightly?
"God." The classic exclamation. I'm pretty sure there's something specific about this somewhere...

My senior pastor's daughter is not the Unlikely Voice of God my title today speaks of. Instead, the Unlikely is a comment by Butters, on South Park.

"You can call a shovel an ice cream machine, Mom and Dad, but it's still a shovel!"

If we look honestly at our words, how many ice cream machines are lying around that ought to be renamed for the sake of the Gospel? If we allow too many meanings for our words, where does the power go that they might hold?

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