Every day during breakfast, our elderly auntie was going through the birth notices in the morning paper. "Isn't that shocking," she complained. "Here is a baby who has been named Jesus." The birth notice was placed by a Spanish family on the arrival of their new son. For them it was a common name for boys. For auntie however, the name of Jesus was reserved only for the Son of God. She did not realize that the name of Jesus was and still is, under different forms, a very common name.
According to the Gospel, the Angel tells Joseph to name the child "Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins." The name "Jesus" comes to us from Greek, the language in which the Gospels were first written. Jesus is from the Greek version of the Jewish name "Joshua" a very common name today for both Jewish and non-Jewish boys.
At the same time, Joshua, like many Jewish names, has a special meaning. While we might give a name to a child because it is a common name in our family or because it sounds nice, in some other cultures people give a name to a child because that name has a particular meaning.
In the Hebrew bible, Joshua was the name of the one who succeeded Moses. Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Behind the Jewish name Joshua is the idea of salvation or victory. This idea is reflected in the Gospel: "you must name him Jesus because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins." This common Jewish name given to Jesus tells us a lot about who Mary's child really is.
The use of a common name indicates that Jesus is truly human. He grew up like any other Jewish boy of his time. He learnt and practiced the religious traditions of his Jewish parents and their ancestors . As a human being he had the same range of human feelings as we do. Like us, he knew happiness and sadness, success and failure. His name also tells us something about the meaning of his life. Like the great Joshua of old, he will bring about salvation for God's people. Unlike the original Joshua's victories, which involved the killing of people, Jesus' victory will come about in exactly the opposite way. He will be killed because of what he will do and say. Herod's attempt to murder him is a sign of what is to come. He will be executed as a common criminal. The victory of Jesus will not be over other human beings but over the power of sin and evil.
But there is also something more to the name of Jesus. Let's go back to auntie and her disapproval of the family naming their son Jesus. Mistaken as it was, her disapproval points to a truth - the truth that Jesus is more than a human being. He is also the Son of God, and so his name is sacred. Through Jesus, God became part of our world and of our history. The Christmas story is not just about a man and a woman and the birth of their child in the poverty of a manger. It is about God loving us so much that he became part of our human history.
Source: Redemptorist Fathers.