Monday, December 31, 2012

The Holy Name of Jesus

The sacred monogram "IHS" forms the center
of this image for meditation and reflection.
IHS is the opening of the Latin version of the
Holy Name "Jesus."

January first for us in the Church marks not only the first day of a new year; it commemorates Jesus’ being named and circumcised. It forms the conclusion to the Octave of Christmas Day (the eight day period marking a major feast day), and is one of the Feasts of Our Lord. When the Feast of the Holy Name occurs on a Sunday, it displaces the usual readings and collect with its own—such significance it has.

Names for us today have become largely a matter of personal autonomy. People often give their children highly unusual names, occasionally making up new ones; some people change their first name, occasionally as a way to “dress up” an ordinary name. In any case, our names in modern America seem to be a matter of personal property. The biblical notion of names was quite different.

Then, the name given after birth was a matter of family continuity and the very heart of a person’s identity.  Names had meaning (e.g. “power of God,” “multitude,” “my eyes look to God,” “Beloved of God,” “dove,” &c.) that affected the recipient for their rest of his or her life. A name not only distinguished one person from another…it also participated in the very formulation of that person’s identity in the community. It established the lens through which that person was understood, and how that person understood her or his own being. Once given, it was fixed (unless God brought about a new name for a new purpose).

When Jesus is given the name which means “God is salvation,” it sets out the course of his ministry, his being for us. While his name was not unusual when given, its full significance was revealed when he went up on the cross, rose from the tomb, and ascended to the Father: his entire earthly life was not only a proclamation that God is salvation, but provided the very means by which that salvation could be achieved for all peoples in all places in all times.

The Feast of the Holy Name draws upon the sacredness of the notion of “name” from both the Old and New Testaments. It recalls God’s Name being disclosed to Moses and the ways in which that name was invoked over the Hebrew people. We recall, too, the holiness and remoteness of that sacred Name, its utter mystery of meaning and otherworldliness.

When Christ Jesus received his name, the Second Person of the Trinity came to share yet another dimension of what it means to be “fully human,” as the Creed says: he allowed himself to be “defined” by others in such a way that he could be known, related to, and called upon in intimate ways. This, too, is part of the mystery of what it means for the Word to be Incarnate.

But we are recalling other dimensions of “name,” as well: we think about the importance of being baptized into the Name of Jesus and his way of life, his message of salvation. We are also reminded (in Revelation) that our final name is not the one we have in this life, but a name as yet unknown—one we will come to know in heaven. We do not yet even know our true name! That is a powerful sign of why we should adopt a humble attitude towards not only God, but towards each other and our own eternal journey!

So, let us start our new year in by celebrating this Feast, giving thanks for the fundamentally new relationship we have with God, who by allowing his Son to be named, allowed us access to him in a way fully human, and also fully divine.

Collect for the Feast of the Holy Name
Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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