Advent Reflection: Names of God

TELL ME YOUR NAME: Finding God In Our Lives

 2013 Advent Reflections on the Names of God


Jacob then asked him, “Please tell me your name.” [God] answered, “Why do you ask for my name?” With that, [God] blessed him. (Genesis 32:28-31)

Catholic theological tradition refers to God not as ‘a being’ but rather as ‘being itself.’ St. Thomas Aquinas writes that God is not in any genus, and so it follows that he cannot be defined. God is a mystery, existing outside of human descriptions, transcending the constrictions of human language; and beyond the comprehension of human thought.

Even so, since the time of Creation, humanity has struggled to name God—to identify that which is responsible for our world and our lives. The bible presents a plurality of names for God, none of which define God fully. Instead they offer a series of lenses through which we can better understand God’s interaction in our lives.

The ‘names’ in this resource offer us images of God which we can turn to in times of joy and need. Just as a parent can offer compassion, discipline, and delight in their child’s lives so can God in ours. They are ways in which God interacts with humanity, offering each of us companionship on our life journeys wherever they may take us.



The name we are given at birth is unique to us regardless of how many other children share it. As we grow, we may receive additional names which further describe and identify us. Some, like Jr., are assigned at birth; others are based on our physicality, behavior, intelligence, vocations, and interests. Some are fleeting, while others remain with us through adulthood. Positive or negative, the (nick)names we acquire help us and others understand who we are.

Humanity has been assigning God names since the time of creation. These names reflect varying experiences of God in our lives: Creator, All-seeing, Eternal, Master, etc. They provided reassurance and comfort to the Hebrew people as they tried to articulate their understanding of the world and a God who promised to be with them. These names are not all-inclusive, nor do they fully define God. They are humanity’s attempt to describe their relationship with God, and more importantly, God’s relationship with them.

This book contains reflections on seventeen “names” of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures with an additional seven Messianic prophecies from the book of Isaiah. Each name/prophecy offers a glimpse at God’s face “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). While the reflections are assigned a number for purposes of continuity, they can be read in any order depending on how you are most longing for God in your life.

We encourage you to take time each day to reflect on how these ‘names’ of God resonate with your image of God in your life: when you awaken, thankful to God that you are alive to greet the morning; during the day when you want a moment of solitude; or at night when you give thanks for God’s grace which was bestowed on you during the day. As you read through the ‘names’, perhaps you will find one or two which cause you to pause and reflect more deeply on how and where you experience God in your life.

May your family have a sacred and peaceful Advent and a joy-filled Christmas.



1 – Creator God (Elohim)

In a society which focuses on success and wealth, it can be hard to fathom creation as freely given. Yet in creating man and woman, God didn’t file for trademarks or patents, seek licensing fees, nor attach rights and regulations. God created humanity out of infinite love and asked for nothing but love in return.

We, and everyone we encounter, are the product of that love, born of parents but created in God’s image. When you look into a mirror, you are seeing God’s image. You are also seeing God’s image in the homeless man on the exit ramp, the welfare mother using food stamps, or the teenage gang member on the corner. These individuals were created in God’s image—a God who continues to love and care for creation. Shouldn’t we try to do so as well?

 2 – God Most High (El Elyon)

With creation completed, God stuck around. Even after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, God didn’t desert humanity. To this day, God continues to be engaged in the world which he created, even if at times this may not appear to be true.

Like a parent, El Eyon is watching over us, allowing us the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. God is standing by us to celebrate and comfort, continually offering us unconditional love and unending grace in our successes and failures. God has never given up on or abandoned us; can we say the same about us not abandoning God?

 3 – God Who Sees (El Roi)

God sees the entirety of who we are and still loves us. Take a moment to reread that first line. God knows our darkest secrets, our deepest fears, our innermost thoughts and desires and yet continues shower us with unconditional love and grace. God see us in our hurt, our pain, and our failures and loves us all the more. While this can be intimidating, it is also incredibly freeing to know that we won’t and can’t be rejected by El Roi who knows us best. Yet if God sees us as we are and loves us then why can’t we do the same?

4 – Eternal God (El Olam)

God was present before creation and will be here after it passes away. Humanity as it exists today is simply a link in the chain of events stretching back through history and forward through eternity. Through it all, God has been, and will be, present in the world.

There is a comfort to knowing God is eternal, a constant presence throughout past, present, and future generations. El Olam, who has witnessed and overcome all adversity in the past, is in our lives to comfort us and assure us that we too will overcome our current struggles, fears, and stresses. The question is not if God is present but rather will we allow ourselves to recognize and take comfort in El Olam in our lives?

5 – Covenantal God (El Berith)

Covenants are different than contracts because while contracts can be voided by either party, covenants cannot be voided without joint consent.

God made a covenant with Abraham, promising to love and care for his family and his descendants. So while past generations have ignored or defiled the covenant, God has remained El Berith, bound by his promise to Abraham.

As the rightful heirs of Abraham’s covenant, we have the choice to affirm or ignore God’s promise to be with us. Regardless of our choice, God remains El Berith, committed to loving us unconditionally throughout all time. It is our choice: what will you choose?

6 – Sustaining One (El Shaddai)

What gives you sustenance? Physically, you are sustained by food and drink; mentally, you are hopefully sustained by meaningful purpose and goals; but what about spiritually?

El Shaddai is the image of God whom you can turn to when you need nurturing and nourishment—the God who will always be there, offering comfort when you are sad, courage when you are scared, and strength when you are exhausted. Just as food and water are required for our physical existence, El Shaddai is a necessary part of our spiritual well-being. And while we all know that denying ourselves food and water would be foolish and self-destructive, how many people no longer worry about sustaining their faith?

7 – Lord, Master (Adonai)

Who or what is your master? In a culture which praises self-sufficiency, the idea of us having a master seems ludicrous and uncomfortable. Yet each of us probably has several masters in our lives—-people (employers, teachers, parents) and things (money, pleasure, power) that direct our lives, inform our decisions, and limit our choices.

Abraham first understood God as Adonai. When asked to move his family to a new “promised” land, Abraham could have refused. Instead he accepted and trusted God as Master and moved his family to an unknown distant land. Moses recognized God as master and returned to a country where he was an outcast; and Jesus trusted God enough to suffer death on a cross.

If we truly view God as Adonai, we must submit our life to God’s will. How many Christians call God ‘Lord’ yet are unwilling to be inconvenienced by having an actual relationship with Adonai?

8 – Self-existent One (YHWH)

YHWH delineates the Hebrew Scriptures into before and after. When God told Moses Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh—I Am That I Am, it forever changed how God was understood by humanity. YHWH is a Tetragrammaton (4 letters) which is unpronounceable though Christians added letters and pronounced it Yahweh or Jehovah.

The challenge of YHWH is the challenge of this resource — how to understand something that defies understanding, something that can’t be easily identified, or called out to. It is not easy for us to accept “mystery”—to recognize that there are things beyond our grasp, beyond our explanations, beyond our ability to describe or articulate within the limits of our language. But that is exactly what YHWH calls us to do.

9 – Lord Who Provides (YHWH-yireh)

The solution to a problem which comes to us in the middle of the night; the eureka moment when clarity sets in; the moment when everything seems clear and obtainable. Our culture defines these ‘aha’ moments as flukes, coincidences, good timing, or karma. Yet God has a history of appearing in people’s dreams, explaining the unexplainable. Why is it so hard to believe that God may offer us the same grace. The Hebrews referred to this as YHWH-yireh—the God who provides.

It is hard to believe in things that cannot easily be explained. Yet God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would always be there for us. Perhaps, all we need to do is let go and open ourselves to YHWH-yireh.

10 – Lord Who Heals (YHWH-rapha)

At the time of the Council of Jerusalem, people viewed illness and deformity as signs of God’s displeasure; at the Council of Trent, leeches were state of the art medicine; and at the time of Vatican II, transplantation of organs was an emerging procedure. As science progressed, so did our understanding of God in our lives.

Many people feel that science and faith are opposing forces when in fact they share a lot of common ground. God’s presence is found as much in the healing hands of the physician as it is found in the compassionate hands of the priest. In understanding YHWH-rapha, we recognize one of the many ways that God interacts with humanity as it continues discovering new answers and, in doing so, revealing new, deeper questions.

11 – Lord, My Banner (YHWH-nessi)

The role of the standard bearer is to rally the troops, to raise the banner high on the battle field as a sign of encouragement to continue fighting towards victory. The soldiers knew that as long as they could see their banner, all was not lost.

In the battle between good and evil, YHWH-nessi is the standard bearer for good. He leads us into battle, protects us from the enemy, and assures us that our fight is not yet lost even when it looks like it is. God is with us, helping us, supporting us, and encouraging us to keep fighting. Who is the standard bearer in your life?

12 – Lord Who Sanctifies (YHWH-mekoddishkem)

Through sanctification we are made a holy people—we are transformed and we are sent forth to transform others. Through sanctification, we begin a domino effect in which God’s grace moves through our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our countries, and our world.

YHWH-mekoddishkem is a powerful facet of God’s existence. It is the name that looks beyond our trespasses, that showers us with God’s grace. Yet, while God’s grace is freely given, it requires that we accept it. Sanctification is not a magic show which happens with to us through smoke and mirrors; it is a relationship which we choose to have with YHWH. It is our choice.

13 – Lord Is Peace (YHWH-shalom)

Experts suggest that in times of stress, people take a 10 minute ‘vacation’ during which they move away from the tasks of the day and go for a brief walk, visualize themselves in an exotic locale, or play a game on their tablet.

YHWH-shalom is the peaceful presence of God in our lives, the one who is there for us to turn to in times of stress and anxiety, the one who offers us a brief respite, a warm embrace, an encouraging word. As you travel through the chaos of the holiday season, be sure to schedule a moment or two to spend in the presence of YHWH-shalom.

14 – Lord of Hosts (YHWH-sabaoth)

It is widely accepted that before addicts can begin their journey back to wholeness, they need to hit rock bottom, and when they do YHWH-sabaoth is there to greet them.

YHWH-sabaoth is there when we are at our lowest, when we have exhausted our options, when we are too tired to continuing running. YHWH-sabaoth is found in the complete release of ourselves to God’s mercy and compassion. It is where we find help to overcome our trials. It is surrendering our lives to God’s protection.

With YHWH-sabaoth’s help, even the smallest person can achieve mighty things.

15 – Lord My Shepherd (YHWH-raah)

Most people in the 21st century do not fully understand what a shepherd was. A shepherd is more than someone who babysits sheep. The sheep place their lives in the hands of their shepherd who protects, nourishes, and cares for them. He sleeps with them, guards them from predators, and makes sure they have grass to feed upon.

Jesus spoke of God as YHWH-raah in order to help people better understand God’s infinite love and grace. Jesus used the example of the shepherd to invite us to place our lives in the hands of YHWH-raah. Though unlike the sheep, it is our choice to trust in God’s care.

16 – Lord Our Righteousness (YHWH-tsidkenu)

YHWH-tsidkenu was first used by the Hebrews as they were exiled into Babylon. As they were being sent out of Israel, sent away from the Temple—the center of their faith and identity, separated from all that they were familiar with, the Hebrew people were confident that God remained with them. And it was YHWH-tsidkenu which eventually returned them to the Promised Land and rebuilt their temple.

God remains with us in our darkest hours offering hope and assurance that we will find God’s kingdom no matter how lost we may think we have become. God remains at our side, fighting our demons, soothing our wounds and leveling the path ahead. Yet, while God remains next to us, it is up to us to acknowledge his presence.

The O Antiphons

While the exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known, there are 5th century references which suggest their presence at that time. The seven “O Antiphons” are ancient prayers based upon Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming Messiah. Each antiphon highlights both a Messianic title and a prophecy of the Lord’s arrival on ear

17 – O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2-3

The greatest commandment, “Love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself”, tells us that wise decisions are those which deepen our relationships with God, the world, or ourselves while unwise decisions demean them.

Wisdom seems simple—who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I will make bad decisions today.” Yet that is exactly what we do. We choose unwisely because the unknown seems more exciting than the known. In Advent it is easy to get trapped by holiday materialism and make unwise decisions which lead to post-holiday dread. The solution is right in front of us; we just have to open our eyes and hearts to God’s wisdom.

18 – O Lord (O Adonai)

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

The ability to make judgments based on particular situations can be a life-saving skill. In emergencies, it allows us to address and resolve issues quickly. It can protect us, remove us from danger, or help us to save others.

It is when we become judgmental that we risk demeaning and degrading others. Judgmental people tend to see themselves as God-like with the ability to decide who is and isn’t worthy. When we view another person as less worthy of God’s love than ourselves, we have started sliding on the slippery slope of judgmental-ism. Christ makes it clear that we should not judge others lest we miss the good that may be hidden inside them.

19 – O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse)

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” Isaiah 11:10

The Jesse tree is a listing of the generations before and after King David, from Adam to Jesus. It is the history of God’s salvific connectedness to humanity and the world. It is the story of our faith ancestors, those who came before us and passed on the faith through word and deed.

Though Jesse lived thousands of years ago, his actions, his belief, and his trust in God, continues to resonate within us as we continue to journey towards God’s kingdom. Our faith is not dead, it is not resting, it is alive and active through the actions and presence of Jesse’s descendants.

20 – O Key of David (O Clavis David)

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Isaiah 22:22

“If you want peace, work for justice.” In 1992, Los Angeles witnessed riots costing the community millions of dollars. The riots were fed by the resentment and anger the African American community felt as they were continually denied justice and equality by the courts and civil authority.

Institutional injustice causes frustration and anger, and often leads people to view violence as the only viable resolution. It exists because it is profitable and because treating a person as an object is cheaper and easier than recognizing their dignity. Jesus challenges us to fight against our materialism and stand up to institutional injustice wherever we find it so that everyone living on our planet can come to know true justice and peace.

21 – O Morning Star (O Oriens)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Isaiah 9:2

Evangelization is simply reflecting God’s light—the morning star—to those we meet. It can be active or passive, verbal or silent. It is living life so that others can witness Christ within us, the Christ we receive at baptism and nourish through Eucharist.

During the last two thousand years, there have been many great people who evangelized others through their peaceful nature and calming influence: Dominic, Francis, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius, Benedict, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and Mother Theresa to name just a handful. Granted, these were ordinary people with extraordinary callings, but they started out just like us — simple people trying to do God’s work in the communities where they lived; or as Mother Theresa believed, ministering to Jesus in disguise.

22 – O King Of Nations (O Rex Gentium)

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4

It is easy to feel helpless when you begin to address world peace. It is kind of like trying to stop global warming or nuclear proliferation. It just feels too big and too complicated for one person to make a difference.

If we want a peaceful world, we must first create peaceful communities in our home, our neighborhood, and our city. As we expand from one community to the next larger one, we will meet others who will encourage us and whom we can encourage. The peace movement grows exponentially and world peace is achieved.

Our first attempts at building a peaceful society must start at home—mending a broken relationship, re-connecting with estranged friends, or changing our attitudes about the annoying person who moved in down the street. These small acts of peace-making, lead to stronger relationships which in turn build peaceful communities. All we have to do is start.

23 O With Us Is God (O Emmanuel)

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

God is with us in our homes, our offices, and our communities. If we truly believe Emmanuel—God is with us!, then we must begin to treat others as though they are the embodiment of that presence.

24 – Lord Is Here (YHWH-shammah)

And we saved the best for last. Tonight we celebrate YHWH-shammah, a simple yet powerful God is here! God is with us in good times and bad, in our joys and our sorrows, in our defeats and our hopes. Throughout all of our lives, God is here!