Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Holy Name


The Feast of the Holy Name

In the Church year today is not New Year’s Day.  It isn’t even the first Sunday after Christmas.  Today is the Feast of the Holy Name.  On the eighth day after their son’s birth, Mary and Joseph take their baby to the Temple to be circumcised and to be named, as is proscribed by biblical law.  And, following the direction each received from an angel, they give their son the name Jesus, which means salvation. 

In a month, on February 2nd, the church will celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord.  Again, the family, following biblical law, will take baby Jesus to the Temple and present him to God because he is their first-born son.  They will redeem their child by making a required offering – in their case two doves; the offering of those too poor to afford a more lavish sacrifice such as a lamb.

From these stories, along with the story of the family making a pilgrimage to the Temple for a holy festival, we learn Mary and Joseph are devout, faithful adherents to teachings and traditions of their faith.  Today we would call them a church-going family.  No doubt they have a regular place to sit in the local synagogue where they can be found without fail every Saturday.

Names in the bible – both for people and for places – are not arbitrary.  They are chosen for a purpose and participate in some aspect of the person’s story or the place’s history.  Remember how, after wrestling all night with an angel, Jacob’s name, which means ‘supplanter’ (he takes his brother’s birthright), is changed to Israel, which means ‘one who has striven with God and prevailed’.

In our day and age, names typically don’t reflect on one’s personality or life story, but they do have a way of becoming a part of who we are.  And like Jesus, most of us have some kind of story about how we got our name.  Before I was born, my parents decided to name a boy after their fathers, so I was all set to be called Jesse William Emerson.  But for some reason, when my mother gave birth to twins, they decided to name us Karen and Keith. 

The name Keith is of Scottish origin and means “woodland forest” – not very descriptive of who I am.  It was the 39th most popular name for a boy the year I was born and there 11,749 other Keiths born in 1959.  In 2022, the name Keith did not make it on to a list of the 100 most popular boys names, which inexplicably contains such names as Waylon, Luca, and Mateo.

Caroline Maria Noel was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman who began writing poetry at the age of 17, but then dropped the habit after a few years.  She took it up again later in life when a crippling illness left her bedridden.  At first she kept her work to herself for private enjoyment, but eventually had them published.  Her best known work is now one of the church’s most popular hymns:

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him King of glory now;

‘tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation sprang at once to sight:
all the angel faces, all the hosts of light,

thrones and dominations, stars upon their way,
all the heavenly orders in their great array.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
from the lips of sinners, unto whom he came;

faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious when from death he passed;

bore it up triumphant, with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,

to the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast,
filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue
all that is not holy, all that is not true.

Look to him, your Savior, in temptations’ hour;
let his will enfold you in its light and power.

Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
with his Father’s glory o’er the earth to reign;

for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him King of glory now.

The other hymn which comes to mind this morning was written by Bill and Gloria Gaither and has been recorded by countless artists:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
There is something about that name.

Master.  Savior.  Jesus.
Like the fragrance after the rain.

Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.
Let all heaven and earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away
But there’s something about that name.

Well, while the rest of the world celebrates the advent of a new year, we celebrate that the one sent from God to be the savior of the has a name.  Jesus.