The collect and readings for January 1, the Feast of the Holy Name, may be found here. The following sermon is based on the gospel, Luke 2:15-21.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Lk. 2:21)
My wife and I spent some time last week with a couple of her friends and their husbands. One of the men is a former Marine pilot. The other spoke about his father who had been a pilot in World War II. His call sign was “Salty.” The Marine pilot’s call sign was “Doo Doo.” I have never met Salty and I don’t know Doo Doo all that well but I now have some ideas and a clearer picture of who they are.
Names are more than just labels. In some way names capture and express the essence of the person. They reveal qualities and characteristics. Try these out. See what they reveal.
- Tricky Dick
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
These names are about a life and a way of being. Within these names are particular actions, values, and beliefs of the person. Sometimes names reveal experiences and relationships. Think about these names: “Daddy,” “Darling,” “Sweetie pie.” My younger son somehow picked up the nickname “Okamo.” I don’t know where it came from but it was more than just something I called him. Within that name was a relationship of love and the experiences of a young boy and his dad.
Names can identify and reveal our personhood. That’s why it sometimes hurts when we are anonymous and our name forgotten. That’s why we also sometimes prefer and hide in anonymity. Names disclose who we are, how we are, where we come from, where we are going. That seems to be at least one of the purposes of all the genealogies in holy scripture.
God uses names and name changes to establish relationship, identity, and belonging. Think about God inviting Adam to name the animals and then giving Adam dominion over creation. Adam named Eve for having come from his side. Moses was so named because he was drawn from the water. Abram and Sarai were renamed Abraham and Sarah for their new relationship to God. Jacob wrestled the angel and was named Israel. Saul’s life was transformed and he became Paul.
Today, January 1, the world is concerned about a new year, resolutions, football, and black-eyed peas. The Church, however, is focused on a name, Jesus. It is the name that reveals God’s life and purpose, claims us as God’s people, and changes our lives. Today is the fulfillment of Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary. Everything the Archangel said would happen has now happened.
We gathered on March 25, nine months and eight days ago, to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Gabriel came to Mary announcing that she would conceive in her womb, she would give birth to a son, and she would name him Jesus. And so it was. She conceived. Nine months to the day later, December 25, we gathered with joy to greet the newborn child. Today, eight days after the birth, we gather to hear the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb, Jesus.
Jesus. Yeshua in Hebrew. It means the Lord saves, salvation. Within the name is Jesus’ vocation, a relationship to humanity, and a desire of God. The name “Jesus” says that God cares about us; God knows what is happening to and with us; God is not indifferent; God is present, acting in the world and in our lives; and that God loves us.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. The name is, contains, and reveals the fullness of God’s life, love, and longing.
So maybe we ought to consider our relationship to the name “Jesus.” When do we say that name? Where? How often? Under what circumstances? In whose company? Is it only a name we read in the Bible? A name we speak only in church? How have we misused or even desecrated the name? Do we say it as our prayer? What do we believe about that name, Jesus?
“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks Romeo.
“That which we call a rose,
by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Is she really correct? I think she has mistaken a name for a label. What if you said the word “rose” and you were filled with its fragrance? I don’t mean you remembered what a rose smelled like but you actually smelled the rose. What if every time you said the name “rose” you were immersed in a garden of life, beauty, and color? What if every time you said the name “rose” you could actually feel the softness of its petals? I suspect you would not want to call it anything but a rose and you would never cease calling, “rose.” That is how the Holy Name of Jesus works.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Say it with me. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus…. Let that holy name fill our every thought, echo through our every word, occupy our heart, guide and direct our every step. We take that name into every circumstance of our life, into every relationship we have, to everything we do, to all whom we meet. Let it begin, fill, and end our day. Jesus before us. Jesus behind us. Jesus beside us. Jesus above us. Jesus below us. Jesus around us. Jesus within us. The name “Jesus” is our unceasing prayer. All that needs to be said is said in that one name.
Every time we say “Jesus,” we claim God’s salvation. Every time we say “Jesus,” we acknowledge our need of God and salvation. Every time we say “Jesus,” we open ourselves to God’s mercy, forgiveness, and healing. Every time we say “Jesus,” we remember that God is with us. Every time we say “Jesus,” we renew our relationship with him. Every time we say “Jesus,” his response is always the same, “Here I am.”