New Year, New Name

nameA sermon for January 1, 2019, known as the feast of The Holy Name of Jesus. The scripture readings are Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8, Galatians 4:4-7, and Luke 2:15-21.

Listen to the sermon HERE

There’s been a lot of discussion of names in our family recently.  There’s the cousin who is interested in genealogy, the one who has just married into our family and is changing her name, and the ideas, thoughts, and opinions about what the name might be for my much-anticipated great nephew when he is born in a few months.

Today in our church is known as the feast day of The Holy Name of Jesus. Our Roman Catholic friends use today as a special day for the Blessed Virgin Mary, but even there is a focus on the name. The official title of the day is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Theotokos, the Greek name that means “Mother of God” is quite a name. It is a name given by the Church, a name argued about, a name prayed to.  The Orthodox Churches focus on the circumcision of Jesus, that very specific way in which we was named, “flesh and blood,” “human,” and given the name, Jesus.

Eight days after the birth, Jesus is taken to the temple as was customary for the circumcision of the Jewish baby boys. Luke’s Gospel shows us that Mary and Joseph were faithful to the Jewish Law and that Jesus followed their example. According to the law, Jesus was brought to the temple on the eighth day. At the temple, his parents brought offerings and Jesus was blessed by Simeon, with the words we say every day at Evening Prayer.

Jesus was circumcised and dedicated. His mother was blessed and purified. The Holy Family went to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. Luke shows us the grown up Jesus who worships in the synagogue, and who fulfills the Law of Moses, the Law of God. He fulfills even as he transforms.

Jesus is given the name that the angel Gabriel had said, the name that is a form of the name Joshua and means, “salvation is from God,” or “salvation is from the Lord.” Salvation is in his name and his saving power continues to work for us.

The life of Jesus saves us from a life lived only to the self. The words of Jesus save us from anything or anyone who would demean us or suggest that we are anything other than a child of God. The healing of Jesus saves us as we pray for wholeness and try to extend his healing to others. The laughter of Jesus saves us from despair. The welcome of Jesus saves us in from the cold. The death of Jesus saves us from the fear of the grave and from dying without a purpose. The resurrection of Jesus saves us from the power of sin to keep us down, the resurrection saves us sin, it saves us— many times—from ourselves.

Jesus saved not only from, but he also saves us for. He saves us for his father, so that God might delight in us his children. Jesus saves us for the kingdom of God, that way of believing and living with one another here-and-now as well as in the future, that way of lifting up one another, encouraging one another and loving one another. Jesus saves us for life—so that in any situation, in any misfortune, in any crisis or calamity we can look through the death to life and to life everlasting.

On this day we celebrate the name that saves and we also celebrate the fact that we share his name. At our baptism, we are given a new name, of sorts, and from that day onward, we live into that Christian name. At our baptism we begin to live into a name that means salvation for each one of us, together but also for each in our own way.

We are together on this first day of a new civil year, perhaps a little sleepy, glad for friends, for celebrations, and for sleep. As we think about a new year and think about those things we might like to do differently, there is the opportunity for us to take on a new name or reclaim an old one. Perhaps that name describes how you’d like to be in the new year. Perhaps a new name marks a transition or a turning point for you. Perhaps it is simply a growing more deeply into a name you have already being growing into.

I leave you with a question like those that appear on the registration forms—by what name would you like to be called this year? By what name is God calling you?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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