Thursday, January 1, 2015

Feast of the Holy Name

Numbers 6:22-27
Galatians 4:4-7
or Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21
Psalm 8 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  These are well known words spoken by the heroine of Shakespeare’s famous play “Romeo and Juliet.” Despite Juliet’s eloquent objection, the fact is that names mean quite a lot. They have the power to shape and determine our destiny. She is a Capulet, he a Montague. They are star-crossed lovers from the very beginning. Their love can end only in tragedy. 

For ancient people, and the Hebrews in particular, names carried a significance even beyond family and reputation. A name was meant to capture the very nature and essence of the person or thing named. Often times, a person will receive a new name at significant milestones or periods of transformation in their life.  When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked him what his name was, he was not merely asking, “What shall I call you,” he was asking, “Who are you? What are you like?” God answers that he is the god of his ancestors, Yahweh, which means “I am who I am.”

For the ancient Hebrew authors of the Old Testament, the divine name was endued with great power and had a greatness in itself, being almost an entity to itself, existing alongside the divine person, so that the prophet Isaiah could write, “Behold, the name of the Lord cometh from far, burning with His anger, and the burden thereof is heavy; His lips are full of indignation and His tongue as a devouring fire.” It was even said that the Name resided in the Temple of the Lord (1 Kings 8:29).
All of which brings us to the Holy Name of Jesus which we celebrate today. Mary and Joseph didn’t pick Jesus’ name from a book because they thought it sounded pretty. This was the name chosen for him by God. It was communicated to the Mary by the Angel Gabriel who told her, “You are to give him the name Jesus.” 

The name Jesus, an English translation of the Greek transcription of the Hebrew Yeshua, itself contains the divine name, it means “the salvation of Yahweh” or “Yahweh is salvation.”
It is actually a version of the Hebrew name Joshua, who was the Patriarch who lead the people of Israel in victory into the promise land. When the Angel appeared to Joseph, he told him also that the child was to be named Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus tells us from the very beginning who this child is and for what purpose he was born.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was officially given his name on the occasion of his circumcision eight days after his birth. The Church fathers see much significance in this fact. Jesus’ circumcision is the first blood that he shed for our redemption. Christ fulfills the righteousness of the law in being circumcised on behalf. Bede writes, “After Jesus’ circumcision, the rite is abolished  by the introduction of baptism of which circumcision was a type. For this reason we are no longer circumcised.” Indeed Saint Paul writes,

“In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day symbolizes, new creation and new life in him.  Even as an infant he is our redeemer and he is fittingly named for that fact.

The name of Jesus is filled with wonder working power because it is the promise and seal of our redemption. As Saint Peter said, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Paul also confirms this in our reading today. He says, “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Jesus promised us that whatever we ask in his name will be given us. There is power in this name. It has been known to heal the sick and drive out demons. The name of Jesus is a comfort and a light to those lost in darkness. From the earliest days of the church, the mere invocation of this name has been seen as a prayer in itself. Saint Bernard writes, 

"The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts, fills the soul with noble sentiments, strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections. All spiritual food leaves the soul dry, if it contain not that penetrating oil, the Name Jesus…Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, a flame in our heart. This name is the cure for all diseases of the soul. Are you troubled? think but of Jesus, speak but the Name of Jesus, the clouds disperse, and peace descends anew from heaven. Have you fallen into sin? so that you fear death? invoke the Name of Jesus, and you will soon feel life returning. No obduracy of the soul, no weakness, no coldness of heart can resist this holy Name; there is no heart which will not soften and open in tears at this holy name. Are you surrounded by sorrow and danger? invoke the Name of Jesus, and your fears will vanish."

I pray that you would call upon his name often, meditate on it, and delight in it. This name is God’s gift to us. Come, let us bless his holy name!