“THE HOLY NAME OF JESUS”
2012 12 30 SERMON
Texts: Luke: 2:21, Matthew: 1:21; Galatians: 4:4-7;
(read during the Sermon)
It may feel a bit like Christmas is all over, but, according to the Church today is still the Christmas Season and will be until next Sunday, the First Day of Epiphany. And, while we will all celebrate Tuesday as New Year’s Day, January 1st of each year is set aside by the Church to celebrate not the fact that it is a new year, but to celebrate the fact that the name of Jesus is holy. “The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ” is the proper name for an obscure feast day on the Church calendar that falls every January 1st.
And, obscure though that annual event might be, if you think about it, there is no one more important to Christians than the one named Jesus. So, we are going to talk about him. There isn’t any thing or any one in the world more interesting, more important, or more relevant to our lives as Christians than Jesus.
Today I want us to concentrate first on just one verse in the Gospel according to St. Luke, the verse that comes immediately after the story of the birth of the Messiah. Luke 2:21 reads: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
In one of his plays Shakespeare asks, “What’s in a name?” Whatever Shakespeare actually thought about names, for Christians it is by our name that we are known. Will Willimon writes, “What’s in a name? A whole being, a tag for a full personality. In our name is our identity, the essence of who we are.” So, if Willamon is right, and I think he is, there is a lot in a name. And there is everything in the name of Jesus.
And that is why long, long ago the Church decided that January 1st would be a feast day in the Church known as The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Did you know that there is still an ancient collective prayer that is to be prayed in worship services on that day; that is, in the few churches that still have worship services on that day.
Let me share it with you: It reads “Eternal Father, you gave 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.”
Kind of nice, isn’t it? Sort of puts a perspective on things: on New Year’s parties, and football, and lots of things the world thinks are more important these days.
What’s so special about Jesus’ name? The name of Jesus means “Savior.” Luke doesn’t mention the meaning of the name of Jesus, but Matthew’s gospel is very clear about it. Sometimes we miss it as we rush through the story. At Matthew 1:21 an Angel of the Lord tells Joseph to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, for “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The Holy Name of Jesus literally means “The one who saves.”
We also may miss another important point in both our haste and our seeming familiarity with the birth texts. Did you notice that neither Mary nor Joseph comes up with this name for the child? The child is from God, and he is given his name by God through his emissary, an Angel “of the Lord.” God named him, God claimed him as his own: just as God knows us by name, and claims us as his own.
What are the consequences of such an act of grace? Our other text for today tells us the consequences. It comes from St. Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, a church which had fallen away from the true Gospel.
Paul writes, starting at 4:4: “But when 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. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
Think about it. Named and claimed as one of Christ’s own, you are an heir to the kingdom of heaven. Yes, there is a lot in a name. And there is everything in the Holy Name of Jesus.
Jesus. That name carries power with it. To say that “I am doing this or that in the name of Jesus” carries an enormous responsibility. To call upon the Holy Name of Jesus is to call upon the maker of the universe, to invoke all that is holy, all that is sacred, all that is righteous, all that means anything to our lives.
Doing things in the name of Jesus and invoking of his name in our worship, in our prayers, in our songs and in our day to day lives is serious stuff. And it is what Christians are to do. It is what the Church is all about. All the activity that we will do in this church during this coming year will be done “in the Holy Name of Jesus.”
Because you are a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, you are his ambassador. You are his designated representative in the world, the emissary from his Kingdom. Most of us are Christians because we met one of those Christian ambassadors before we met Christ himself. We met those who labored “in the name of Jesus” before we met Jesus. Not only in prayer, but in all that you do, you are responsible to do it “in the name of Jesus.” You are responsible to pattern your life after his life. Your name is to be made holy, as his is holy.
To be a Christian is to be someone who has been blessed by Jesus in order to be a blessing to the world. Just like the priests of old, you and I are to bless people in the name of Jesus. In sum, we are blessed in order to be a blessing.
Each of you, with your unique names, have already been named and claimed by the one whose name is above all names. And in addition to your given name, each of you has another name, an infinitely more telling name: Christian. By that name are you to do all that you do “in the name of Jesus.” You are to bear that name in the world, so that all those in the world may see Jesus coming to them through you.
Listen to St. Paul in his letter to the church at Phillipi speaking of the glory of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ; (Philippians 2:9-11) “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”
And so, in the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ: I wish each of you, children of God and heirs to Christ’s Kingdom, a most glorious and righteous New Year.