Jan 1 2012 HOLY NAME
PS 8, Num 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7, Luke 2:15-21
In Psalm 8, the psalmist sings praises to God about the beauty of creation and the blessing of our role in creation. The psalm opens and closes with the words "how majestic is your name". In Jewish tradition, a name is important. To not know a person's name is to not really know the person. To know the name, but not acknowledge or speak it, means to diminish the person in some way. A name represents what the person will be in the future; it expresses the reality of a person's being at the deepest level.
In our modern world, names still have meaning and importance. Just for fun, I looked up the meaning of a couple of names here in our congregation. The name Ann or Anna means "grace". The name Robert (or Bob) means "bright" or "shining". The name Gabriella means "strength from God". As I thought about these meanings, I realized that if we take our names seriously, then they reveal to us things about our personality and potential. A name is serious business! So it's no wonder that approximately 50,000 people legally change their name each year. As a friend of mine who did change her name explained to me, she felt her birth name didn't really fit her. She changed her name from Helen to Saliha, which is Aramaic, and the derivative of Saliha is Sarah. Her given last name is Abrams...Saliha Abrams...Sarah Abraham...ones who are called to follow God and lead others to God. While she didn't know the etymology or religious significance of her name, in my opinion, it really does "fit" her. It tells me a lot about who she is as a person and friend.
So what about the naming of Jesus? According to Matthew 1:21, an angel tells Joseph to name the baby Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. In Luke, an angel also tells Mary to name him Jesus, which in Hebrew means "the Lord saves". And so according to Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph take Jesus (presumably to the temple) after eight days to have him circumcised and named. This custom can be traced back to the days of Abraham when the covenant between God and the people had been established. And what does this name mean? The name "Jesus" tells us about his future identity and mission:
--he will bring us grace, mercy, healing and forgiveness
--in his name demons will flee, cripples will walk, the deaf will hear, the blind will see, the dead will be raised
--he is God with us, the one who saves
--as his followers we are to serve others as he served us.
Beth and Jeanie will tell you that for the last two years when St. Mark's hosted Free Clothes for Kids, children have signed a poster of thanksgiving. The first year a child named Jesus signed the poster. The second year a child named Emmanuel signed the poster. Through that outreach ministry, we welcomed God into our midst. But welcoming God, calling on the name Jesus, isn't reserved for special projects and holidays...we should be open to receiving God's grace, mercy and forgiveness all the time; singing out the praises of this beautiful creation around us, saying "how majestic is your name".
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.