Sunday, January 8, 2017

Christmass I + A+          2017                    
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
1, January                                                                                         
The Holy Name of Jesus
Numbers 6:22-27 Psalm 8
Galatians 4:4-7+Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

What is in a name?  In my youth, I was encouraged to look for the meaning of our names and how that name given us was a foretelling of how God might use us in our lives.  In our day, we often see prospective parents pouring over “baby books” to pick out the most novel and perhaps meaningful of designations for their child to be.  Some are and have been culturally so of a certain mind that names are “made up” out of thin air for the sake of “uniqueness” or even for the certain sound of an ethnic origin.  Is this anything like what we see in the Bible?

In the Biblical record, names were much more profound and even a part of Divine fore-telling.  In a very popular protestant tool for evangelism called the four spiritual laws, the first principle in sharing the message of Jesus is: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. While not a complete telling of the gospel, it opens the door to the fact that God cares for us as we read in the letters of Peter. (I Peter 5:7)

What do our own names mean?  Have we ever inquired? Are they a Divine foretelling of the Truth our lives are to represent and fulfill? In the Hebrew tradition, a name is so much more than a designation to differentiate one from another. It contains hopes for the child, wishes for what the child should become.  Shortly after I was ordained someone gave me a course of Dale Carnegie's How to win friends and influence people in order to boost my morale.  In that course I was taught a principle listed as number six: "Remember that a person's name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language." I have never forgotten that and am still trying to embody the methods he suggested to help remember a name.  That is significant.  To come in the “name of” means to come in the authority of who or whatever as in blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. One of the reasons that those who reacted against Jesus so strongly was that they were motivated by a rejection that God Almighty was Jesus’ Father. I once saw a placard that read: Jesus is Lord of Humanity not a Name for Profanity.  I have taken to interjecting my own two cents in a context when the Holy Name is carelessly uttered.  When someone says "Jesus" at a moment of exasperation I interject: He is Lord of ALL!  It gets my point across and people usually gave a little laugh like someone when they've been caught doing something that they shouldn't have The Holy Name Jesus is all-powerful because of the Person who bears it is King of Kings, Creator and Lord of Lords. The Holy Name Jesus is all-powerful because of the Person who bears it is King of Kings, Creator and Lord of Lords. Jesus said: 

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (Jn 14:14)  Jesus means Savior and Christ means: Messiah the Deliverer.  However, it is not merely in this one verse Jesus says such things, but at least 19 other times in the four gospels! We honor His Name because of His command.  For most of our entire lives we have heard people and prayers in Jesus Name.  We honor His Name because of His command. For most of our entire lives, we have heard people end prayers in Jesus Name, or in the historic traditions, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is why St Paul was able to write to the Philippians: " the Name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth." (Philippians 2:10)We have a hymn i our hymnal that begins "At the Name of Jesus Every knee shall bow, Every tongue confess Him King of glory now..." recalling this prophetic text. 

In our gospel we have the earthly parents going in obedience to the Law of Moses to the temple for the circumcision of Jesus.  In fact, this feast day used to be called the Feast of the Circumcision.  What is the connection?  It was upon this occasion that every Hebrew male received his name from his parents, when he was accepted as a full son of Abraham and recognized as a full member of the Jewish Community  It was on the eight day, the text tells us. The church historically saw a strong connection between the sacramental rite and baptism. The books say that God replaced a bloody sacrament like circumcision (also imaged by the blood of the cross) with an un-bloody one that makes a child a full member of the Christian Community.  Notably, historically children were baptized on the eighth day and many baptismal fonts have eight sides.  All of this is to remind us of the connected-ness of the Hebrew tradition and the Christian tradition intersecting.

Jesus came in God's time. In the letter to the Church at Galatia Paul wrote: "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 the adoption and children.  And because you are children God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (4:4-7)

Jesus came to save the oppressed and the oppressor alike.  You may have noticed that the first reading is that of the Aaronic blessing, given by God of Aaron and his sons.  God says in this passage: So shall I put my Name upon the Israelites and I will bless them. (Numbers 6:27)  So God has done with us.  When we receive the gift of God's salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, we are given a new name: Christian.  So God has put the Name of Jesus upon us and has come to live within us.

On this day we remember that we are God's kids.  God has exalted our brother Jesus as Messiah/Christ.  Our tradition teaches us to bow our heads when the Name Jesus is used in worship or read in the lessons.  As a former Baptist Christian, this was a custom that impressed me profoundly.  In the Episcopal tradition, what we do with our bodies is supposed to be a reflection of what is going on in our hearts. This morning we celebrate who Jesus is and also rejoice that we have been privileged to share that Name above all names.  In John's letters we read: Beloved now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed we hall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (I Jn. 3:2) Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to enable us to believe and to call Jesus Father, Our Father.  That my sisters and brothers in Jesus is what is in our names by the  greater Name Jesus.  Today, we celebrate remembering that we are God's children bought by Christ Jesus who loves us with an everlasting love. AMEN      

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