Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Holy Name

January 1, 2012

Numbers 6.22-27, Psalm 8, Galatians 4.4-7 and Luke 2.15-21


+ Those Episcopalians like myself who identify themselves as “Anglo-Catholics” are, let’s face it, a strange lot. We do some strange things—or at least that’s what I’ve been told by others—both Episcopalian and non-Episcopalians.

On Friday night I did a wedding at Gethsemane Cathedral here in Fargo and afterward, at the reception dinner, a young man—a Lutheran—who seated at my table said to me: “So, I noticed you kept nodding during the service. What’s that all about?”

At first I had to think about it. I was nodding during the service? And then it hit me. Oh, I was nodding at the name of Jesus.

I said, “Well, some Episcopalians nod every time the name of Jesus is mentioned. I’m one of those. It’s a simple way of paying homage to the Name of Jesus.”

This young man sat back and pondered this for a while and then said, “I like that, but I don’t know if that’s gonna go over too well at the Lutheran Church in Milnor.”

Maybe not.

But, for me, it is important to do this simple act because it keeps me on my spiritual It keeps aware that this name of Jesus that we are celebrating today on this Sunday of the Holy Name is special. It is different. We do pay a little more special attention to Jesus’ name when it is mentioned.

This particular day of the Holy Name of Jesus, used to go by another name in the Episcopal and Lutherhan Church. It was once known as the feast of the Circumsicion of Our Lord. We have kept the feast, but we’ve changed the name, probably for good reason.

On the eighth day following Jesus’ birth, he, like all Jewish males born in his time, was brought to the Temple, circumcised and named. This name, Jesus or Joshua, Yeshua in Hebrew, was a common name in his day.

There are two differing translation of the name: One is “God with us.” The other is “God saves,” or more specifically “God saves us from our sins.”

Today is an important feast on one hand because what it shows us is that we do truly have an intimate relationship with God. God is no longer a nameless, distant deity. God has a name—or rather the God who came to us in Jesus has a name.

We all know how important names are. Our own names are important to us. They define us. We have been trained to respond when we hear our name called. We, in effect, are our names. Our names and our selves are bound inexorably together. Our name is truly who we are.

The same can be said of God. In the Old Testament God reveals the Divine Name as Yahweh. Yahweh is such a sacred and holy word to the Jews that it can not even be repeated. In a sense, the name Yahweh becomes so intertwined with Who God is that is becomes, for the Jews, almost like God. It is the Name God revealed to Aaron.

God said, “they shall put my name—Yahweh—on them and I will bless them.”

The message here to all of us is that to have a truly meaningful relationship with anyone—to truly know them—we need to know them by their name. So, too, is this same idea used when we think about our own relationship with God and, in turn, God’s relationship with us. God knows us by name and we know God by name.

This is important. God is not simply some distant Being we vaguely comprehend. God is close. God is closer than we can even imagine. God knows us and we know God. We know each other by name. This is why the name of Jesus is important to us. That is why we give the Name a certain level of respect. That is why I, and other Anglo-Catholics, do that little nod every time his name is mentioned.

Like the Name that was revealed to Aaron, so has the Name of our God been revealed to us. And like the name Yahweh to the Jews, the Name of Jesus is holy and sacred to us Christians.

We have all seen the IHS symbol in churches. Not many people know what IHS stands for. Some people think they are initials for “In his service” But they are not initials. They are the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek. They are the letters Iota, Eta and Sigma. Whenever we see the HIS symbol, we are to be reminded of the Holy Name of Jesus.

There was an old belief that the IHS devotion was started by a 14th century Franciscan priest, St. Bernadine of Siena. For St. Bernadine and for those who followed Bernadine’s devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, nothing was more holy and more sacred than the Holy Name of Jesus.

Certainly even for us, the Name is a vital and important part of what we believe as Christians. The collect for the Feast of the Holy Name today recalls that the name of Jesus is the “sign of our salvation.” I don’t see that as a sweet, overly sentimental notion. I see it as a very important part of who we are as Christians. I also don’t see that nodding at the name of Jesus as an overly pious action.

I see it as a sign of respect for Jesus at a time when his Name is widely abused and misused. We’ve all done it. We’ve all sworn, using the Name in a disrespectful way. We have not given the rightful respect to God’s name in our lives, even when we know full well that a name is more than just a name.

A Name is, in a sense, one’s essence. Certainly in Jesus’ case, it is. Jesus is “God with us.” Jesus is “God saving us.” By this very name we have a special relationship with this God who has come among us We belong to this God whose name we know.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that God belongs to us. Rather, God is with us. All of us. God, in Jesus, has come to all of us. God in Jesus knows each of us by name. Certainly those of us who are Christian know this in a unique way.

When we were baptized, we, like Jesus eight days after his birth, were named. At our baptism, were signed as Christ’s own forever. We were claimed by God by name. By Baptism, our own names became holy names. By Baptism, God came to know us by name and because of that, our names are sanctified. We bear in us our own holy name before God.

So today—this day we celebrate not only God’s holy name but our own as well—and in the days to come, take to heart the fact that God’s name is holy and sacred. Be mindful of the words you use and be mindful of that name of Jesus in your life. But also be mindful of your own holy name. When you hear your own name, remember that it is the name God knows you by and, as a result, it is truly holy. In sense our own names can be translated as “God with us.” When we hear our names, let us hear “God saves us.”

And let us be reminded that God knows us better than anyone else—even our own selves. Claim the holiness of your name and know that God in Jesus is calling you to your own fullness of life by name.

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