Yesterday, a friend sent me a New Year Wish I would like to share with you. It reads: â€œMay you get a clean bill of health from your dentist, your cardiologist, your gastroenterologist, your urologist, your proctologist, your podiatrist,
your psychiatrist, your plumber and the IRS. May your hair, your teeth, your face lift, your abs and your stocks not fall; may your blood pressure, your triglycerides, your cholesterol, your white blood cell count and your mortgage interest not rise....May we live in a world at peace and with the awareness of God's love in every sunset, every flower's unfolding of petals, every baby's smile, every lover's kiss, and every wonderful astonishing miraculous beat of our heart." I wish you all a very happy new year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Today we celebrate a beginning, but not of the year. For us Christians, the year began last November 27, at the start of Advent, as we waited eagerly for the arrival of our Lord, the baby Jesus. Today we celebrate his circumcision, the ceremony that marked his entry into the covenant God had with Abraham for all his descendants. It is also known as the Feast of the Naming of our Lord.
When Christmas falls on a Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord coincides with the First Sunday after Christmas, and thus, according to Prayer Book rubrics this super cedes the regular Sunday observance. The Gospel of Luke tells us that on the eighth day after Jesus' birth, he was circumcised and given his name. According to the requirements of Mosaic Law, three ceremonies are to follow the birth of a male child: Circumcision (Lev. 12:3); dedication of the firstborn (Ex. 13 12-13; Num. 18:15); and purification of the mother (Lev. 12: 2, 4, 6). In the book of Genesis we read that, as a sign of the covenant between Yahweh and the nation of Israel: "Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old" (Gen. 17:12).
Names in the Holy Scripture have great meaning as an indicator of who an individual is and what that person is called to do. The Old Testament passage from the book of Exodus calls our attention to an earlier event when Yahweh proclaims the Divine name, and its attributes to Moses. We read in Chapter 32 of Exodus about the apostasy of the golden calf. Moses had spent forty days with the Lord on Mount Sinai and when he came down he learned about the idol worship of the golden calf. Moses broke the tablets he received from Yahweh. This symbolized the severing of Israel's covenantal relationship. Yahweh commanded Moses to cut new stone tablets and come to meet with Him alone on Mount Sinai. The "Lord" descended in the cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the most holy name for God which is Yahweh translated as Lord (Ex. 34:5). One explanation of the name is that it means "the one who causes things to happen." In today's reading, Psalm 8, says this name is exalted in all the world. In Exodus when God stands with Moses in power and might, the first thing God reveals to Moses is His nature with words found throughout the Old Testament (Number 14:18, Neh. 9:17; Ps. 103:8, 17; Jer. 3218-19; Dt. 5:9-10). This nature is attributed to the belief that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and faithfulness. God's steadfast love is extended for thousandth generations," forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.
In the Gospel reading we learn that the child born to Mary in Bethlehem was named Jesus. Jesus, which means "Our Lord will save," was a fairly common name, but God chose it for his Son for a special reason. The angel explained it to Joseph: "You shall call his name Jesus or in Aramaic Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is the most holy name in Christianity. "Jesus" was, for the early Christians, "the name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). They used the fish to symbolize the Lord's name, because the Greek word for "fish" is ichthus. The fish ichthus stands for the Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior the name God the Father gave His Son.
The Feast of the Holy Name reminds us of the salvation Jesus brings to us and to all generations. It is in his name that we bless and uphold in all our liturgy and worship. We affirm that God the Father also hears us, and that we too are sons and daughters of God through Christ our Lord. Legions of people over these 2000 years have embraced the God-man Jesus from Galilee as their personal savior, cultural hero or a moral teacher. American experience for the last three hundred years has looked at Jesus from their own angle. For many their perspective of Jesus has been revealed through worship, Bibles, crosses, and rosaries. Jesus has held a place of honor, awe, and devotion in the minds of hundreds of millions, and is an anchor for those who seek his name.
Kings, philosophers and presidents of nations have paid their own homage to this man Jesus. Benjamin Franklin understood Jesus as a wise man worth of imitation. Thomas Jefferson regarded Jesus as a moral teacher. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which occurred on Good Friday, was popularly interpreted as parallel to the crucifixion of Jesus....as one preacher put it, "Jesus Christ died for the world, Abraham Lincoln died for his country." Elizabeth Cady Stanton appropriated Jesus' message to Champion woman's rights. President George W. Bush named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher. Jesus in our present world is being figured out by each race and nation who is this man Jesus to them. Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey tried to understand Jesus in a segregated society in 1921. He called him "Our Blessed Redeemer" for the Negro. He said, "Jesus Christ is not white, black, or yellow....The line from which He came had connection with every race existing, hence Jesus Christ is the embodiment of all humanity." C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity about Jesus. "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic---on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg---or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse."
I invite you to come and worship with me on this Feast Day of the Naming of Jesus who offers medicine for the "sin sick soul." There is a great African American Christian hymn that describes this man Jesus:
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
Sometime I feel discouraged,
And think my work's in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again
If you can't preach like Peter,
If you can't pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.