Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Feast of Relationship: The Holy Name of Jesus

Today marks the eighth day of Christmas, the day on which the infant Jesus was given his name and when he was circumcised according to the Jewish custom. This day, previously called the Feast of the Circumcision but now known as the Feast of the Holy Name, is one of the more important Holy Days in the year (so much so that, when it falls on a Sunday, it takes precedence over that Sunday’s normal readings).

When Jesus was named and circumcised, he became part of the covenant community of Israel. In a sense, the formal and outward relationship between this tiny child and the rest of the Jewish people was inaugurated today, as was the “official” relationship between Jesus and the God of Israel. What Mary knew and pondered upon in her heart about this child, and what the shepherds had heard from the angels upon the hillsides that holy night was not yet widely known, much less understood.

So, all was now rolling along according to the “normal” plan of life then. This, by itself, is a reminder to us that the normal course of events, the normal relationship, the normal patterns in our life often contain extraordinary and amazing opportunities of encounter with God.

Today is a feast of relationship. When we receive our name, we become “known” to others as an individual. We begin the life-long process of growing awareness of who we are, who others are, and above all, who God is. Our name becomes a point of access for both individual identity and interpersonal relationship.

Jesus’ name means “God saves.” It is a verbal identity, a being and a doing. In Christ Jesus there is a human reality, a human person who had to be born, to be bathed, fed, changed, and swaddled, to receive a name and join a community, to submit to a code of expectations, and to have a character formed by relationships with others. God’s salvation of humanity could not truly happen unless all of what it means to be authentically human was assumed and experienced.

The mystery of Christ’s nature as fully human and fully divine means also that at the same time as the above is true, it is also true that in him the fullness of Divinity lived and walked among us—from the start. At each stage of his life, people found new relationship with each other and with God through Jesus: from the Visitation through the Presentation in the Temple, the unborn and newborn Christ child creates the context for unexpected revelation. This, too, is a reminder of God’s unseen activity in person and situations that do not meet some “official” criteria of holiness or religion.

God’s work of salvation does not require some kind of spiritual bureaucracy or permit, but a willingness and openness on our part. The message of Christ Jesus’ divinity shows us that God is always open, always ready for such an encounter leading to transformation. This is one reason why only the authentic Christian faith—the kind expressed in the Nicene Creed—carries with it the means of salvation, for it alone involves the complete human in the complete power of God.

Each time a person prays the Lord’s Prayer and utters the words “hollowed be thy Name,” we are re-visiting this day and its significance. The Commandment says that we may not take God’s Name in vain, and the Old Testament teaches us that God’s Name is, ultimately, unknowable to the limited human mind. But in Christ Jesus—God made man—we have a personal relationship with that God-beyond-knowing, the opportunity to move from isolation into communion, from a mindset conditioned by death and limitation to one of life, light, and eternal possibility. Jesus’ naming on this day marks the visible, earthly experience of what God was—and is—doing in an unseen, mysterious way: to make us one with him, to bring down the wall of separation between God and his people made in the divine image.

In that way, it is appropriate that our civil New Year falls on this day, for the Feast of the Holy Name stands out as a proclamation that through this Infant King, our God has done something decisively new, inaugurating a radical accessibility between humans and their Creator. It is truly a feast of relationship, the dawn of a New Era, and one that each Christian is privileged to live daily. We are free to live on the level of divine life, unconstrained by sin, alienation, and death. That is our citizenship, and Christ Jesus’ Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension is our passport. Celebrate this day and the life it stands for!

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.


  1. You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey.

  2. You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey.

  3. I am pleased to know that something of what I write might be of value to you, or anyone. As a wise Russian priest remarked to me years ago, "if God can use a donkey to bear Jesus into Jerusalem centuries ago, then I suppose he can use someone like me to bear the Gospel now." Blessings be upon your journey, as well.