Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holy Name

Luke 2: 15-21

On the Eighth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me: eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Blessings to all on this Eighth Day, continuing wishes for a Merry Christmas and now a Happy New Year as well, as today we remember by way of our Church Calendar the FIRST Eighth Day of Christmas, as in the 21st verse of the second chapter of St. Luke. The Circumcision of our Lord. The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

When I was in college I was invited to a bris. The traditional gathering in a Jewish home for the ceremony of the circumcision, which is performed by a trained religious leader called a Mohel, and the event as I experienced it mostly something like a baby shower. A gathering of family and friends, with gifts for the newborn and his or her family, cocktails and hors d’ouvres. But at the center, this ancient prayer and ceremony and memory.

From the seventeenth chapter of Genesis: God says to Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly . . . . Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations . . . . I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. Every male among you shall be circumcised . . . . He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations . . . . So shall my covenant be in your flesh, an everlasting covenant.”

And so, Joseph and Mary, on the Eighth Day of Christmas. St. Luke reminding us again that the story of Jesus isn’t some new story but is instead the continuation of and more importantly the fulfillment and perfection of the ancient sacred story of God’s covenant with Israel. Something we see again on the Holy Mountain as Jesus is revealed in his Transfiguration in the company of Moses and Elijah. The fulfillment, the embodiment of Torah and the Prophets.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas. The name Jesus, Yeshua, as given by the Angel Gabriel to Mary back in the first chapter: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (As God said to Abraham, “I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.”)

I know when our kids were born Susy and I gave a lot of thought about the question of a name. I think most parents do. Thinking about connections in family, or historic or ethnic traditions, about saints and heroes, ancient and contemporary, sometimes just about the music of the words. Daniel after my great-grandfather, and remembering the brave and visionary prophet of the Bible, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Linnea after Susy’s aunt, a beautiful Swedish name, the lovely wildflower the Swedish Botanist Linnaeus named after himself.)

Yeshua wasn’t a rare or unusual name, but one rich in meaning. The same name in the Old Testament story with a slightly different spelling, Joshua, the successor of Moses, who was the one finally to lead the Chosen People from their wanderings in the wildnerness into the Promised Land. The name itself coming from the Hebrew words meaning something like “The LORD saves.” Sometimes given, “The LORD will be my deliverer.” This echoing what the Angel told Joseph in his dream in the first chapter of Matthew: “she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Something about his name. Matthew hears with us in this the fulfillment of the Word of God to the Prophet Isaiah, in the seventh chapter, as the Prophet speaks to Ahaz the King, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Which means “God with us.”

“But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Thou hast mulitiplied the nation”—there, is again the promise to Abraham—“thou hast increased its joy.”

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this”

The Eighth Day of Christmas—and, perfectly, on our calendar as well, New Year’s Day. And as the old college dorm poster from the early ‘70’s reminded us, “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” And before us the story all about a promise fulfilled and made true and real for us. Which is a call to worship and an invitation to a new way of life, in him. As we would hear that call and accept that invitation now, and in the New Year and all the years of our lives to come.

Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given.

So Paul in the second chapter of the Letter to the Philippians: “Have his mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The Eighth Day of Christmas. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Blessings, then, as we gather for worship in this season of Christmas, and on the first day and the first Sunday of the New Year. May his name be on our lips and in our hearts and over our lives today and always.

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