What’s in a name? Ah, the perennial question! A lot is in a name. And even more is in a name depending on how it is said, and by who it is said. The people of Israel long knew that a name is more than a mere designation of a person. A name means a relationship. No one will be able to say my name the same way as my parents who gave it to me. In fact, I’m pretty sure I only have a middle name so that I knew when I was in trouble growing up.
So we consider all the names in the Gospel story of the Annunciation. Just in the first few verses alone, we have all these names: "In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of a the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary." And even more, the angel Gabriel commands Mary and Joseph to give the name Jesus to their son. And every one of these names holds deep significance in the history of Israel and in the story of salvation. Gabriel’s name mean, “the power of God,” as he announces God’s tremendous power in the Incarnation, as the Lord of all creation enters into the same creation as a baby. Joseph bears the name of one of the great patriarchs of Israel, who was sent before his family to prepare a way to save them from famine, after they had tried to kill him because of his God-given dreams. And he is of the house and family of the great King David, a name that means “beloved” (דָּוִד); the father of a royal house that God promised would rule forever. And God would rule through His own Son, born with the name Jesus; a name shorted from the common Hebrew name Yehoshua (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ), which means “the Lord is salvation.” Seems appropriate! And Mary (מִרְיָם—Miryam in Hebrew), who shares a name with the sister of the great figure Moses: one could even say she receives a new name in the Gospel!
When the Angel greets Mary, he uses a word never before used in Scripture or in Greek literature: κεχαριτωμένη—kecharitōmènē. It’s a beautiful word, especially considering the musicality and the poetry of the entire greeting: Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη—Chaire kecharitōmènē! This unique word would have sounded perhaps a little unfamiliar to Mary, but after centuries of reflecting on and praying over this ecstatic salutation, the best we can do to translate it ourselves is: Full of Grace. And it’s totally worth it to get technical and try to understand the unique, grammatical significance of this word.
First of all, it’s a perfect participle passive. As a participle, it’s a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective. In other words, it’s like a new name. It describes something about who Mary is, not just what she does. Secondly, in the perfect tense, which means the verbal root is something that was done in the past but has lasting or continued effect. Finally, it’s passive, which means it is not describing something that Mary has done, but something done for her or to her. We know from the Immaculate Conception that Mary did not achieve or accomplish anything to win God’s favor. He prepared her for this, and she was faithful to this tremendous gift. So, to say that Mary is full of grace is to tell us not just something about what she has done or what has been done for her, but who she is.
In other words, Mary has a new name. Perhaps her name would have borne the weight of the resentment and resulting leprosy of the sister of Moses (Numbers 12:10). But the Lord was about to give the name of Mary a new dignity, by giving her the new name of κεχαριτωμένη.
So the great lesson of Mary’s new name is that she is a promise that has been made to us. That as she is, so shall we be: Christ bearers. And it doesn’t first rely on what we have done, what we have accomplished, or what we have failed to do. Perhaps we have been diving more deeply into Advent this year than ever before, whether we’ve accomplished great spiritual tasks or we’ve failed miserably. Either way, our desire for the Lord to come back has grown, even if we don’t think we feel it.
This Advent has become so much less about what we can accomplish, and so much more about our desire of the Lord Jesus and our desperate hope for His return. Because the Lord has given Mary a new name, He has given us a new name. We have a new relationship with God that goes beyond the gifts that can be given, or even the gifts that can be received. We bear a new name, we enter into a new relationship as sons and daughter of the Father who has named us after His Son: Christians.