Homily for the Feast of the Holy Name

Blessed + be the Name of the Lord:
From this time forth, for evermore. Amen.

We are now several hours into 2012—
Anno Domini: the year of our Lord 2012;
Anno Salutis: the year of Savlation 2012—
several hours into day of new beginnings,
a day of new opportunities.

Some of us have made resolutions for the coming 366;
(it’s a leap year, you know);
some of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions;
some of us won’t have the opportunity to see
if they hold for some time yet;
and some of us—perhaps the bravest and wisest of all—
have resolved not to resolve.

In addition to today being the first of the new year,
it is the octave day, the eight day, of the celebration of Christmas.
The octave day of a feast is a privileged day,
and is often kept as a feast day itself.
Following the chronology of today’s gospel [Luke 2:15-21]
some Christians will keep today either as the feast
of the Holy Name of Jesus,
or as the feast of the Circumcision of Jesus,
or as a feast in honor of Mary, under the title Dei Genetrix, Mētēr Theou, Mother of God incarnate.

For Episcopalians, it’s the first: the Holy Name of Jesus.
Eight days past, we celebrated his birth;
the appearance of the Word made flesh:
now he receives the name “given by the angel before he was conceived.”

This naming is a very human moment,
one that will be bound up with his identity,
his history, his narrative, his life’s journey.

It is also a divine moment,
one that binds his identity with that of God.
We call him Jesus in English, by way of the Greek;
they named him Yeshuah,
or possibly Yehoshua,
a name meaning (more or less) “God Saves.”
His name derives in part from The Name—
the one given by God to Moses through the burning bush.
Ehyeh asher Ehyeh:
I AM who am;
I will be with you as who I am.
This child’s name carries within it
the power and promise of the very Name of God.

Certainly, it was a common enough name, in its day;
perhaps some saw the irony in it when he was nailed to the cross
and the placard was hung above his head:
“God Saves”— but apparently not this one (?!?)

With now-familiar words,
the Victorian poet Caroline Noel summarizes for us:

Humbled for a season to receive a [human] 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.

The name of Jesus, Saint Paul tells us,
God has exalted above every other name, such that
“at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10).

We may not bend the knee every time we invoke it;
perhaps, when we remember, we at least bow our heads.
Invoke it, nonetheless, we do:
in moments of ecstatic joy,
deep grief,
and profound frustration.

Name him, Christians, name him, with love strong as death
And with awe and wonder, and with bated breath!
He is God the Savior, he is Christ the Lord,
Ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored.

Jesus: all that God has promised in the divine name,
all that I AM meant to the people
who waited for him ever so long
has become Emmanuel,
God-with-us,
promise fulfilled in Jesus.

And “Jesus” has become, as Charles Wesley reminds us,

The name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease:
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life, and health, and peace.

Of course, we have another “name” for him—
the Hebrew title, “Messiah,”
rendered “Christos” in Greek: the Christ,
the anointed one of God.

Almost from the beginning,
his title was treated as a name;
as something of a surname, a last name:
thus we call him “Jesus Christ.”

We heard in the Epistle lesson [Gal 4:4-7]
just a few moments ago, that
“[w]hen the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
in order to redeem those who were under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as children” through him.

And, not unlike those adopted into our own families and communities,
God in Christ has bestowed upon us his name:
We are “Christians,”
those who, like Jesus himself,
have been anointed—quite literally in baptism;
we are christened: Christ-ened,
conformed to his own Sonship,
so that we might be “no longer a slave but a child,
and if a child then also an heir,” co-heirs of everlasting life,
co-heirs of the reign of God,
together with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do we embrace that name that we have been given?
Have we learned to live every moment in and through that Spirit
by whom we cry out “Abba! Father!”?
Are we signs of the presence and promise;
do we make the Word-made-flesh real for those around us?
Are we living as those who have been “likened to Christ,”
untied to him as members of his body through baptism,
Christ-ened, anointed with his Spirit,
living by the power of the name of Jesus,
waiting with joy and hope,
ready to inherit with him the coming reign of God?

Ah! The stuff of New Years’ resolutions. . . .
and the day is still young—
besides, who ever said that resolutions had to be made right at midnight?

6 comments

  1. Thank you, Cody, for sharing this wonderful homily with us!. I like celebrating this feast as the Holy Name of Jesus. It makes sense for me, as this is the day that He was given the name in the human world, according to His Jewish tradition.

  2. Many thanks, Cody. Your text is inspirational. An object lesson in itself. I like the poetic layout too. All good wishes for 2012!

    1. Gerald,

      I find it infinitely easier to preach from a sense-line text than from prose blocks. On the printed page, subordinate lines and phrases are variously indented as well. Much easier for me to keep my place and to “deliver” the text, rather than simply reading it.

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