A reflection by Christina Brennan Lee on 2022-12-30.
This is a rare occasion! This weekend we will celebrate the First Day of a New Year on the First Sunday of a New Year. The last time was in 2017 and the next time we have January 1st on a Sunday won’t be until 2034!
Of course any New Year’s Day is filled with opportunities to celebrate and this one is extra special because, being on a Sunday, we have the rare opportunity to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name in our Liturgy/Worship Service.
This feast occurs every single year on January 1st, but how many of us are aware of it while, according to various cultural traditions, we are eating our black-eyed peas, cabbage, lentils, collard greens, noodles, fish, vasilopita, or plain ol’ pancakes and waffles? (Or, maybe just recovering from the feasting of a busy New Year’s Eve?!)
As we know it today, this Feast Day has also been known as The Circumcision. We’re celebrating Jesus, of course, and if you listen closely to or read this Sunday’s Gospel, you’ll know how eight days after His birth, Jesus was taken to the Temple to be circumcised and officially named. Perhaps you remember that in Joseph’s dream in Matthew 1:21, God’s angel appears to dissuade him from dismissing Mary, and explaining that the son she will bear will be called Jesus, which means “God is salvation.” Following quickly on is the name in Matthew 1:23’s Emmanuel, which means God is with us, referring back to the Prophet Isaiah 7:14’s prediction of the child of the virgin that will be called Immanuel. Whether translated with an E or I, that name comes from the Greek rendering of two Hebrew words: `immanu, “with us,” and ‘el, “God.” How often do we think of Jesus, as a God-given name? How often do we stop to contemplate this Name and what it means to us, to our Faith as Christians?
This Sunday’s naming focus gives us a moment to think about the power of a name.
What does your name mean to you? Do you know your name’s history, why it was given to you? Who of you have given yourself a nickname or another name that represents yourself in your own way? Perhaps family or friends have different names for you. How do you feel if someone mispronounces or misspeaks your name? When that happens to me, especially by someone who knows me, it can feel as if my name and I are unimportant. Because of that, I try to remember people’s preferred names and use them. And then, for me, there is nothing so touching and wonderful as hearing any of the names I’m known by spoken by someone who cares about me (especially Grammy and Aunt!).
Using a name well creates a connection with another.
It is more than mere identification, it is relational, even if only a brief encounter in a retail or service location. If someone is wearing a name tag, I will call them by name. If it is an unfamiliar kind of name for me, I ask how to pronounce it. Often, I’ll ask a person what their name is and then give mine in return, regardless of whether I’ll ever see them again. As God calls us each by name [Isaiah 43:1-5], the least I can do is care for the name of another, however briefly.
There is power in a name, and no greater power in any name than in the name of Jesus, as Paul said in the Letter to the Philippians it is the name that is above every name. Sadly these two familiar syllables are, far too often, used in less than honorable ways. It has become a verbal football to throw around casually as an exclamation, or worse, even by some of us who profess to be faithful to the Name and the Man.
Here’s an idea for a New Year’s resolution.
If you haven’t before, start now using the name of Jesus in only the most sincerely reverential tones. Begin again to use the name with intention as a prayer ~ a reverent invocation as an acknowledgement of His presence within, even use it as a meditation by repeating it quietly perhaps with a following prayer phrase such as my heart is with you. Fr. Richard Rohr says, “Prayer isn’t primarily words; it’s a place, an attitude, a stance.” Let us use the Holy Name of Jesus as our place of holy introspection, our attitude of faith, our stance of firm ~ or at least firm-er ~ willingness to turn toward the Way that Christ beckons us to live. From Psalm 51 come the words: Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Will what is on my lips create a clean heart and renewed spirit? Let me begin again with the power of and in the Holy Name of Jesus.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every week, Christina Brennan Lee writes the Prayers of the People we use in our worship services on Sundays. She also leads weekday prayer services and serves on the SsAM Vestry. Click here to see her People’s Prayers website.