Monday, January 1, on the church's calendar is The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. The readings for the day can be found here.
Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation. Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of Him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.Shakespeare had Romeo say that “a rose is still a rose by any other name”—and I suppose that it is. But names nevertheless do convey something. Our names literally tell us who we are, and how we are called tells us something about our relationship with the one calling us by name. So I respond differently to the names Richard or Rich or Canon or Dad or "My Love." Years ago when I was the Campus Minister at Central Connecticut State University, our landlord in New Britain insisted on calling me Dick, no matter how many times I corrected him!
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. I know it's also New Year's Day, but again, what's in a name? It's true that we are about to turn the page of a calendar and have to remember now to write 2018 on our checks, but it's also the eighth day of Christmas. And on the eighth day, little Jewish boys get circumcised. In the same way that we Christians are officially “named” at Baptism, so, too, are little Jewish boys named at their bris.
The name given to this newborn child is Jesus. It is a transliteration of the Greek name, Ἰησοῦς, which is itself a Hellenization of the Hebrew name,יְהוֹשֻׁעַ Yĕhōšuă‘ or Joshua. In any of those languages the name means "YHWH delivers" or The LORD rescues.” This name appears to have been a fairly common name in Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. And it is, of course, an old Biblical name that goes all the way back to the end of the Exodus story, to the days when Yĕhōšuă‘ fought the Battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin’ down!
In Luke 1:26-33, the angel, Gabriel, told Mary (Miriam) to name her child Jesus and in Matthew 1:21 the angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." That sort of takes the fun out of the back-and-forth most parents go through in considering names, but that is what the Bible says: Mary and Joseph didn’t have to fight over that one because they both got it on good authority that this would be his name.
Luke tells us that “after eight days had passed it was time to circumcise the child…” Circumcision is a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Luke wants us to know that Jesus is a child of that covenant, a faithful Jew. Jesus is born into a tradition that goes back to Moses and the Exodus, to David and the Psalms, to Jeremiah and the Exile, to Isaiah and Homecoming. Jesus bears the name of God. His very name includes the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush: YHWH delivers. Jesus bears that holy name in a special way, but the point of circumcision, as with Holy Baptism, is that we all bear the image of God and therefore the name of God.
We who have been marked and sealed and claimed as beloved children of God through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism carry the name of Jesus. We bear the name of the One who has claimed us and marked us and sealed us and loved us into this new resurrected life. And we are called to live into the truth of that claim on us. Perhaps as we come to the end of 2017 and put up new 2018 calendars it is worth remembering that holy name and renewing our commitment to live more fully into the claim that name has on us. We are invited to make a new beginning, so that along with any resolutions we may be making to lose weight or exercise more or spend less time playing computer games, we are invited to renew our commitment to Jesus.
May the year ahead be another year of grace for each of you reading this post: those who have been reading it faithfully for many years now and those who have stumbled across it for the first time. May this new year be filled with possibilities, a year of peace and health and joy.
Happy New Year!