Dan 7: 9-10, 13-14; Luke 9: 28-36 I’m always fascinated by the names people choose for their babies. Some parents pick names for their children either to live up to or even to live down: like the Mum who got into a fight with her local vicar because she’d been to see the film "Gladiator" and wanted to call her son "Maximus", or or the inventor of the Lear light aircraft who named his children Chanda and Gonda. But I have to say that for a baptism on the Feast of the Transfiguration, having just listened to Luke’s Gospel, you couldn’t ask for a better name than Luke. The name means light-bearer and later in the service we’ll give Luke a candle as a symbol of the light he’s going to bear into the world for the whole of his life.
St Luke is also patron saint of doctors – Paul describes him as his beloved physician, but most significantly of all, perhaps, Luke is known as the author of what people often call the “Gospel of Compassion”.
Because Luke writes with the heart of a healer, as someone deeply touched by people’s sufferings and struggles, but at the same time he has this irrepressible joy. Only Luke gives us angels and shepherds, only in Luke those hymns of joy: the Gloria and the Magnificat; he gives us a woman looking desperately for a lost coin then throwing a party when she finds it, and in fact more stories about women than any other Gospel; only in Luke a desperate Father rejoicing over his prodigal son (which, if we had no other Gospel story, is probably the only one we need), and time and time again he gives us Jesus reaching out to the despised and rejected right up to that encounter with the Good Thief on the Cross – only in Luke.
So Luke sheds light on what human experience is actually like, and also on what it can be if we’re open to the light that shines from the mountain.
When I was doing a little bit of research on Luke as a popular baby’s name on Google, it turns out that one reason for the popularity of the name, is not so much to do with St Luke as with Star Wars. Young Luke Skywalker is the hero of the films, and his destiny is to be a Jedi, a servant of the Force – the great mysterious power that holds the cosmos in being. And to do that against all temptations to turn to the Dark Side (having Darth Vader as your Dad isn’t a great start).
But Luke will, no matter what, live out the meaning of his name. He’s an unconquerable light-bearer. As is Jesus whom we see today on the mountaintop surrounded by dazzling light. Jesus will live out the meaning of his name too: God saves. And he’ll take his light into the deepest darkest places of human experience to show to us that this light shines even there and the darkness never overcomes it.
There’s a sense in which every one of us shares that mountaintop. We stand in that place where God gives us a name that includes all names – and that name is Beloved. Who are we? We’re Luke, or Andrew or whoever… But most of all we’re Beloved. The name we have in the heart of God before we’re given any other name, before anyone lays eyes on us. The un-named name parents have for children before they’ve picked any other name. For his Mum and Dad, Luke was the Beloved before he even had a name, and that’s the knowledge we want him to have every day he opens his eyes for the rest of his life.
Because it’s a dazzlingly wonderful thing to be a human being. We see it in that strange vision of Daniel. Everything is given to this Son of Man, nothing’s too good for him, and Jesus fulfils that vision – and shares it with us. On the mountaintop heaven splits open and the human Jesus stands there bathed in love and glory to hold up a mirror to how God sees you. That’s what a human being looks like to God. We’re just amazing, enough to take God’s breath away.
Just the other day when I went to see Vivian’s new baby, Joshua, the nurse on duty showed me into the wrong room. A seemingly delighted Mum thrust her baby into my arms for a blessing saying: I wasn’t expecting a priest – this is wonderful. And it struck me that priest or no priest, all babies enter this world under a blessing. Baptised in the love of their parents before any other baptism, drenched in the love of God, celebrated with that heavenly chorus that Luke clearly thought was indispensible for any major event, and just radiating light and love.
My first baby daughter, I remember, was born during a hospital laundry strike, and handed to us wrapped in j-cloths, but all babies are wrapped in divinity, they radiate that light from the mountaintop which is the meaning of Luke’s name and with which he’ll bless other people and bring them joy for the whole of his life. Amen.