What’s In a Name?

Sunday, January 1, 2017 – The Feast of The Holy Name

Numbers 6:22-27 Psalm 8 Philippians 2:5-11 Luke 2:15-21

What’s In a Name?

Today we celebrate the naming of Jesus, which may seem like an odd thing to celebrate – but we are a church with a long and varied tradition after all! This feast has been celebrated in the Church since at least the sixth century, and as we have one foot in the Catholic tradition and one in the Protestant, this is one Sunday when we will step away from the Revised Common Lectionary and celebrate this older tradition – the feast of the Holy Name.

“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.”

And he was called Jesus. What’s in a name? Everything – in this case.

As The Rev. Rick Morley writes:
It’s a peculiarity that Christianity as we know it came through the furnace of the Latin speaking Roman Empire that we call the Son of God “Jesus.” Unless the Angel Gabriel spoke in Latin to the Virgin Mother, he told her to name him “Yeshua,” or “Joshua.” Recovering the Savior’s Hebrew name we can find riches previously unavailable to us. For “Joshua” is both a harkening back, and a glance down the road, all at once. “Joshua” should immediately recall the great patriarch, who picked up Moses’ mantle. It was Joshua who finished Moses’ job. It was Joshua who finished the journey of the Exodus. It was Joshua who brought the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. Let that sink in for a moment. And, “Joshua,” or “Yeshua,” has meaning to. It means “God saves.” In a name, “Joshua,” and it’s [sic] Latin cousin “Jesus,” both points back to the saving acts of God in ages past AND points forward to the saving acts which will in years to come … occur on Golgotha and in an empty tomb. A rose by any other name would still be a rose. But, this rose (e’re blooming?) has a name which is meant to signal to us all who He is, Who sent Him, Who acts, and who will save us all. (from his blog, a garden path)

And while I think Rick may have missed a step in terms of language, in that the translation of Yeshua, or Joshua into Jesus may have more to do with the Greek than the Latin, I think he’s got the point solidly in his sights. This name means God Saves. God Saves has come – to us. And that seems worthy of celebration: the feast of the Holy Name – God Saves.

Besides, it’s good for us to celebrate this moment with the family – when Jesus is named and circumcised. Because in all that is before them they will get so few moments to celebrate. It’s also good for us to remember that he was actually a baby, and a Jewish one at that. I think we

forget that sometimes, or gloss over that in the Christian church. (I believe our baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant went home to celebrate his first Hanukah as well as Christmas eve, so a very authentic Jesus!)

On this day, this child will be honored with this name, Yeshua, Jesus, because this is what the angel has told his parents he will be named. (And that is the least of what is extraordinary about him and his birth.) But otherwise the rest of this day’s ceremony and celebration is normal for his time and place, it will all happen in the traditional way, as is befitting a son born into a family in this tradition. This is a child of the line of David, and this is how things always happened, to little boys just like him. He’s a normal little boy of his generation AND the child of God, named God Saves; both.

So on this day we celebrate his holy name and his ordinary life beginning in our midst. We gather with the family and friends, to catch a glimpse of the child, hoping to get a chance to hold him maybe, or to be helpful in some way, and we listen for the moment when they will announce his name. What’s in a name? I imagine at first it was a bit much for his parents, to call him Yeshua, God Saves, at first. Speaking aloud the promises of God he fulfills every time they said their son’s name. But then, with each use, each moment, it became his name more fully, layered with memories and images…, isn’t that how names and relationships work? That’s why we cherish our children’s names, and why a name has such power, it evokes a lifetime of memories and carries hope for the future. (So it is fitting that we pray for our children by name, every day.) As we celebrate this name today, we remember the promises of the past and find hope for the future – this is the child of God, this is God Saves, who leads us into the Promised Land – even now. In the everyday moments of our lives.

There was a feel-good story trending on the internet just before Christmas that got a lot of attention from people like Oprah and others. It started with a post about a little boy, Michael Brown, who after many days in foster care was finally officially adopted. The picture that captured everyone’s attention is of him holding a sign that reads, “Some things are worth the wait, after 832 days of foster care, I am adopted!” and shows three-year-old Michael is pumping his arm in triumph. The next pictures are of him with his older sisters, and then a photo of Michael and his adoptive Mom, Tara Montgomery. I think she’s a pretty extraordinary woman. When the angel whispered to her, “Through you, God saves this child,” she agreed. Like Mary, she too is a single mother in less than optimal circumstances, though I think Tara would argue that anyone can adopt a child and give them a better life. When she was a young mother with three daughters, her husband was killed by an acquaintance.

Raising her daughters as a single mom, Tara works as a high school secretary; administrators and teachers often ask her to talk with students who have lost a parent to violence, and it was through working with these students that Tara decided to become a foster parent. She and her three daughters had been a foster family to five other children before Michael came into their lives in February of 2015; he was 18 months old this was his third foster family. When the opportunity to adopt him presented itself, Tara said yes, absolutely. So on December 20th, after 832 days in foster care, three-year-old Michael Brown received the gift of a wonderfully

ordinary life, lived in a family, a child beloved and cherished, one who belongs. Through an extraordinary act of love. And that seems like something worth celebrating; on this day when we celebrate the feast of the Holy Name, God Saves.

In this New Year, may we experience the meaning of the Holy Name, what it feels like to know that God Saves, in our lives, in small ways and in great. And may God give us the courage to respond to the whispering of angels, inviting us to be part of God’s saving grace in the world … “Through you, God Saves.”

“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.”