The Holy Name of Jesus
If we added up all the real questions we ask people over the course of a certain amount of time, the number one question I think would be “What’s your name?” It’s our way of being friendly and showing interest in the other person and also fulfills a curiosity we have. Sometimes the question shows sympathy and caring when asked of a child or someone going through a hard time. Sometime the question “What’s your name?” is demanded of us or asked in anger, like when we’ve done something wrong, or, when I was confronted by the school bully and his friends. When I told them, over and over, my name was “John Smith” they didn’t believe me. Frustrated, they left. Thank God!
Humans value names. The importance of names comes, in great part from the religious heritage of the three Abrahamic faiths. God created Adam out of the earth, adamah. Abram’s name was changed by God to Abraham, which means Father of a people in Hebrew. Moses at the Burning Bush, in the course of his dialogue with God, asks God to reveal his name. God’s name was Yahweh (Yhwh) which means I am Who I Am. God is the verb “to be” and the foundation/source of all being, every created thing or person.
Those were just some examples from the Hebrew bible. In the New Testament we all remember how Saul, the great persecutor of the early followers of Jesus, upon his conversion, God arranged that his name would be changed to Paul. And Simon the fisherman, when he confessed his faith in the Messiah, Jesus changed his name to Petra which means Rock. Peter would be the Rock foundation upon which Jesus would build his church. Names sometimes describe a person’s purpose or give a new identity.
Then we come to the Holy Name of Jesus we are thinking about today and the first day of every year. In the course of the Christmas story, the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that the baby she would conceive would be called Jeshua which means one who saves. Mary and Joseph didn’t have to consider names like most parents do, but accepted in faith the name God communicated through the angel for the child.
The saving name of Jesus remains close to all believers. St. Paul in Philippians calls the name of Jesus the “name above all names.” Prayers and hymns focus on the name of Jesus and the power and dominance it contains. Do you remember the hymn: There is power, power, power, wonder working power, in the Name, in the Name? In the course of time, however, the focus on the power of Jesus’ name, has led to a kind of holy competition between faiths, with Christianity being “superior” and “above” all other religions. But that this very passage with Paul’s testimony about the “name above all names” should lead to thoughts of Christianity’s superiority or dominance over other religions, is sad. Rather it should lead to love for and service to the world and all its religions. Why? The whole passage is about humility, about Jesus’ emptying himself out in a saving act and witness for the world!
I grew up always thinking that Christianity and my Roman Catholicism was the truest and the best of all religions. I’m glad that I’m joined to Christ in baptism, and it’s taken a while, but I’ve learned from Jesus that the greatest among you is the one who serves, not being served. The Holy Name of Jesus reminds us that, as he came to serve and save the world, so should we. This is the “truth” that Jesus came to bring an be an example for us all.
Jesus was born in a stable, his parents were very ordinary people, lowly, often despised, shepherds were the first to know of his birth and be changed forever by the experience. The Apostles were the most ordinary of folk. So were Mary Magdalen, Zaccheus, and so many others, like us, ordinary people in need of saving. We were baptized with ordinary water in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
So on the first day of every year, the church gives us this special day of the Holy Name to refocus us for the year ahead on what’s really important: to embrace ordinary folk with the love of God, especially the poor and those oppressed by injustice or disease. If we do this, whatever may come during the New Year, it will be a very good year! In Jesus’ Holy Name.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.