The feast we celebrate today, “The Feast of The Holy Name” has been celebrated since the end of the fifteenth century. This feast in the past, has been held on different dates, but most often in January, because 1 January, eight days after Christmas, commemorates the circumcision of the child Jesus; as recounted in the Gospel.1 This day on which Our Lord was named, is no simple, secondary post-Christmas Feast that just happens to fall on the liturgical calendar. No, it is a significant day because the name of Jesus is of utter importance for us. Names are important. Each of us has a name that people use to point to our individuality. Two friends talking may mention the name Rowan Williams, Barack Obama, or Mother Teresa and most of us know the friends are speaking about the Archbishop of Canterbury, the President of the United States, or a modern day saint. For us Christians, and for those who are not, it is interesting to consider what ideas, images and emotions are stirred up at the mention of the name Jesus.
The name “Jesus” occurs in a number of languages and is based on the Latin Iesus, of the Greek Iησοuς, a hellenization of the Hebrew Yĕhōšuă‘ or Joshua. Both of these names mean “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh rescues”. Jesus is generally an expression of the phrase “God’s salvation” or “Yahweh saves”, or “Yahweh is salvation”.2 When we consider the depth of meaning of the name “Jesus,” the proper name of Our Lord, we also come to recognize in its origin, an expression of our faith in the incarnation, in the salvific work of God in Christ. When we say the name Jesus, we are proclaiming, that Jesus saves, Jesus delivers, Jesus rescues, and Jesus is salvation. The narrative of the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord is the evidence of this proclamation.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the author wrote, “Therefore 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, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) In Matthew’s Gospel, the writer professed, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) In John’s Gospel, the writer captured our Lord’s words, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) The name of Jesus brings us to our knees, it conveys his glory, it unifies us as a people, and his name by its utterance remains powerfully present and active in the world today. It is not merely in the saying of the name of Jesus that brings about grace, it is in the transforming life, death, and resurrection of the man, the Son of God, God Incarnate, Jesus the Christ. The place where most of us struggle a little, is in how the redeeming work of God in Christ has affected us and how does it change the way we live. The question we must ask ourselves is what is my relationship to God in Christ really like.
Sometimes we hail the depth of commitment or association of relationships by the way we identify them. We sometimes use descriptors such as business partner, acquaintance, friend, best friend, sister or brother, spouse, lover, etc. Two kids were on the playground one day chatting when a third came strolling past. One said, “There goes my best friend Jay … he is so awesome.” The other boy said, “there goes that Jay person . . . I do not know him that well, but I don’t care for him.” Each boy had a different experience of their relationship with Jay and each experience formed the other’s feelings, attitudes, and thoughts about the young man. Whether “best friend” or “estranged acquaintance,” the names we use can point to the character of the person who bears it, and it can signify the nature of the relationship we have with that person.
What name do you call Our Lord? How has God worked in your life? For many disciples, the Work of God in their lives has first been experienced, then they named him. Peter was asked “who do people say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Peter experienced the presence of God’s grace over three years as he witnessed Jesus heal and restore so many people. Like Peter, we all at some level, have experienced God’s grace either in our own lives, or as witnesses of God’s grace manifested in the lives of others. It is through our experience of Christ that we come to intimately name him.
The person who has struggled with addiction or depression or some other crippling issue and who has experienced the beloved presence of Christ, may call him “Savior.” The person who has faced a disease and yet has overcome and returned to health, may call him “Healer.” The person who has experienced the heartbreak of a broken relationship and yet found new life, may call him “Reconciler.” The person who has passed through the valley of the shadow of death as a result of the loss of a loved one and yet, are able to face a new day, may call him “Comforter.” The person who has found purpose, meaning, and identity that they never knew before, may call him “Friend.” The person who has experienced none of these life-changing events may still call him “Lord,” “Son of God,” “Christ,” or “Messiah.” For saints throughout the centuries Jesus is the “Alpha and Omega,” “the Beginning and then End,” “the name above all names,” the “Annointed One,” the “Messiah,” “Jeshua,” “Iasus.” We who have experience God’s grace are changed and by that transformation our love and commitment to Christ deepens and grows. Through that ever deepening and growing relationship to Christ, we come to give him the name that defines his redeeming work in and through us. Each week in this place we are invited to receive God’s grace through the sacraments. We merely stretch out our hand and receive him and we take him. We allow him to fill us. So we can go out into the world and declare his name and say with joy and praise,”Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord.”