Sunday, January 1, 2012

At the name of Jesus....

Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Name
January 1, 2012

Today--January 1st-- is a Feast Day in the Episcopal Church.
No, we don’t mark New Year’s Day as a Feast Day.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Name.

It wasn't too long ago in the Episcopal Church
that this was known as the Feast of the Circumcision.
I think they decided to rename the day
because they must have noticed
that when folks came into church on this day
and saw the word CIRCUMCISION at the top of the hymn boards,
some folks just turned around and went out the door!

We're a little more comfortable
with Holy Name than Circumcision!
But both are accurate.

Scripture tells us that it has been 8 days
since Jesus was born
and scripture tells us
that his family kept Jewish tradition
by circumcising and naming the baby on the eighth day.
This was the event that made a child officially one of God’s people.
Even though the angel already told Mary what to name this baby,
it is this eighth day after birth that will make it official.

This is a difficult concept for most of us.
To not name a baby for eight days.

Many of us had our names selected long before we were born.
Sometimes, even before we were conceived.

I know when our daughter was a little girl
she planned to have twelve children--all girls, of course--
and all were going to be named after flowers--
Rose, Daisy, Dahlia, Petunia....

Well, over the years, plans change.
I think our daughter eliminated having 12 children
long before she was married
and she and her husband Jeff selected the name Penelope
for our youngest granddaughter--their only child.

But they had the name picked out weeks--
maybe even months--- before Penelope was born.

But names--whether you wait or whether you are ready--
are important.

Names are important.
Around Christmas a friend told me that her youngest son
asked her if “Christ” was the last name for Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

When I shared this with a parishioner here,
she wittily responded,
“No, their last name was Davidson.”
Remember in the scripture from Christmas Eve
we were told that Joseph was descended from the House of David.
Get it?

Many of our names do have significant meaning.
Sometimes it is just to carry on a family tradition.
But sometimes it is done because a name has a deep meaning.

The angel Gabriel had already instructed Mary
she is to name the child Jesus.

The name Jesus is a Greek derivative
of the Hebrew Joshua or Yeshua--
and the name means
“the Lord helps” or “the Lord saves”.
The name tells us that Jesus is the one God has sent
to love, embrace, help and save the world.

Even though he is just a wee baby,
even though he hasn’t preached or healed or done any miracles,
even though Jesus is only eight days old
God is saying,
this baby is here to change the world.
This baby is here to help you, save you, change you.

Being named is being claimed.
Our parents give us a name
but for us as Christians, when our name is spoken at our baptism,
when the sign of the cross is made on our forehead
and the priest says,
“You are marked as Christ’s own forever,”
then we have been claimed as one of God’s children--forever.

It does not matter if we are baptized as a baby or as an adult,
God loves us
and believes and sees
that we are each full of possibility and promise.
No matter what, God knows our name
and God will never forget our name.

There is power in a name.

When I was a young child and had just moved into a bedroom by myself
(my brother and I shared a room for years--
him on the top bunk, me on the bottom)
then we built an addition on to our house
and our older sister moved into the new bedroom off the new den
and I moved into my sister’s old room
and my brother--well, you know,
the youngest always gets what is left.
He stayed in what had been “our” room.

So I had a room to myself.
And that is wonderful--but also lonely.
I can remember waking up in the middle of the night.
It was dark.
I was alone.
Then I heard a sound or saw a shadow that looked threatening
and so I would call out the name of the one I knew who would come:
It started quietly and calmly
but the volume and passion would increase as needed:

And I had a blessed childhood--
because when I called MOMMY,
Mommy always came, always showed up, always comforted,
always turned on the light .

There is power in a name.

Think about all the names we hear in scripture.
Some of you who serve as lectors know
that the Bible is sometimes full--overly full--
of lists of names
(many of them challenging to pronounce!).

From the very beginning, in the book of Genesis,
Adam is given a name.
And then Adam is given--by God--the gift
of being allowed to name other things.

Knowing someone’s name gives you have a connection to that person.
We all know how much it means to us
when someone remembers our name.

Remember the old television show CHEERS--the theme song---
where everybody knows your name....
We all want a place like that.
My prayer is that church, our church, can be one of those places.

The Feast of the Holy Name
reminds us to remember the name of Jesus.
Knowing this name
we have access to someone all the time.
We can call on him--
when we are in trouble, when we are overjoyed,
when we are worried, when we are sad,
when we wake in the middle of a dark night
and there is no longer a “mommy” to come to our rescue.

We have been given the name of one we can call on.
We should not use it loosely or profanely or lightly.
We should use it often
to remind us who has claimed us,
who loves us,
who walks with us.

There is a prayer, known as the Jesus prayer--
it is a very simple prayer--
and there are numerous variations--
but here is one version--

Lord Jesus Christ
Son of the Living God
have mercy upon me.

In a book titled The Way of the Pilgrim,
a book you can still read today,
a book written in the 1850’s,
this prayer is described in this way:

The continuous interior Prayer of Jesus
is a constant uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus
with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart;
while forming a mental picture of his constant presence,
and imploring his grace, during every occupation,
at all times, in all places, even during sleep.

I love that image of praying "even during sleep."
Imagine that.
Knowing and calling for Jesus--even during sleep.

We know the name.
We have been given the gift of knowing the name of Jesus.
As we start our journey into the new year,
this is the name we may pray without ceasing,
this is the name that will always be there to help us.

This is the name of the one who knows us
and knows our name, too.

Jesus is the one who never forgets us.
May we never forget him either.

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