Sunday, January 2, 2022

Year C Holy Name Observed 2022 Creator-Sets-Free

 Year C Holy Name (Observed), 2 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA


Collect: Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 2:15-21

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Words mean things. That is one reason why you hear me talk about etymology so much, the roots and inherent meanings of words. Words are where I live my life, consuming them, sharing them. I love breaking down words and seeing the ingredients. It is like when you taste something new and you try to pick out the ingredients the cook used even though your mouth is being overwhelmed by the mixture and new interactions.

Even more than words, Names are so important. One of the greatest burdens as new parents weas naming our new children. For both of our kids, we narrowed it down to a handful before they were born. Our oldest, when born, was premature. She was almost 6 hours old before we could even see her. A nurse came in and asked what we had decided to name her and Stephanie, obviously irritated said curtly, “I am not going to name her before I hold her!” Because of the shift change, the nurse was not aware of this and helped remedy the situation immediately. And once we held this precious one, our guts confirmed it independent of one another. And we named our child.

As an English teacher I loved looking up the meanings of the character’s and how we shape identity with the names authors pick. Some are for meaning. Some for a feeling. Think of it, would Ebenezer Scrooge be as Scrooge-y if his name were not Scrooge. 

Think on your name. What meaning and purpose does it give you? My given name is Jeffrey, God’s peace, but very few of you ever call me that, much less even knew it. A nickname was given to me in college and it stuck. In my 50s I still use it. It has become an identity, it has become my self-perception. Rock, and I had it before Dwayne Johnson ever started using it.

In Jesus day, one often kept family names, so this angelic imperative was different. For both Jesus and his cousin John. The Messengers declared the names they were to be called. Names mean things. This was important.

The Holy Name of Jesus comes from the Hebrew name Yeshua/Y'shua, which is based on the Semitic root y-š-ʕ (Hebrew: ישע), meaning "to deliver; to rescue." In Hebrew it is often written as Joshua. In short it could be “YHWH Saves” or simply “God Saves.”

Focusing on the meaning of the names is culturally different. A fascinating new translation of the New Testament has just come out that makes this very clear. 

Now when people do translations of Scripture, they have a few choices to make. Is it going to be a literal translation? Word for word? If so it is often clunky and it can make no sense in a new culture. Think of a society that does not have sheep. When Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” how does one translate that? Do you find a cultural equivalent herd animal? Llamas? Reindeer? If you do then it becomes more of a thought translation which is very different as the translator’s understanding, biases, and opinions come into play. So I was excited to hear about this new translation looking at our native populations. 

A First Nations Version writes to the indigenous peoples of our country, and follows the tradition of saying the meaning of a person’s label, and that is the name. In our culture, names are mostly just sounds. We do not think on what they mean when we say them. In reading the Scripture with Names-Spelled-Out, it gives a powerfully different reading. The reading from today’s Gospel shows this…

When the messengers (angels) returned to the spirit-world above, the shepherds said to each other, “Let us go and see this great thing Creator has told us.” So the hurried to the village of the Chief Much-Loved-One (David) and found Bitter-Tears (Mary), He-Gives-Sons (Joseph), and the child, who, just as they were told, was lying in a feeding trough!

The shepherds began to tell everyone what they had seen and heard about the child, and all who heard the story were amazed.

Bitter-Tears (Mary) kept these things hidden in her heart and wondered what all this would mean. The shepherds returned to the fields, giving thanks to the Great Spirit for the wonders they had seen and heard.

Adding the meaning into each and every sentence makes us listen again for the first time. It breaks the rhythm we expect, and makes us ponder the narrative in every word. Jesus becomes Creator-Sets-Free in this translation. Jerusalem becomes Village-of-Peace. Even the name of the Gospel of Luke is enhanced, as it is called Shining-Light Tells The Good Story. With Luke’s emphasis of bringing the light of God to the world, this fits so well.

It is so easy for us to gloss over the meaning of what we talk about because it is old hat to us. Most of us have heard the Good News so long and so intensely, that we forget how Good it is and even more that it is NEWS!

We need to remind ourselves of how precious and miraculous what we share with the world is.

One of the great gifts of the story we tell is the intentionality and patience of God. As our Galatians reading opens, it says “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…” Galatians 4:4 

Like waiting for dough to rise, the Divine waited for the perfect time and place to insert the leverage of Grace to impact the world. 

In naming the baby Jesus, a declaration was being made. Yeshua, God-Saves, Creator-Sets-Free, Jesus. With every invocation of his name, we make a proclamation. In the Roman Empire, the phrase at the time of Jesus’ birth is Caesar is Lord. One of the earliest creeds of the Church went against that. “Jesus is Lord,” they would boldly declare, throwing down the gauntlet to the powers that be and the state of the world they found themselves in.

In Antioch, in an attempt to mock the early church, the followers of “The Way” as they called themselves first started being called Christians, little Christs, little Messiahs. It was said in derision and used to belittle. But names mean things. It became an identity, it has become our self-perception. In the name of God-Saves Messiah, Jesus the Christ, we see our role in the world as continuing down through history the work he started and left for us to do. We take on the name of Jesus, and we do what we do in his name. We pray in his name. We serve in his name. And today, we honor the Holy Name, the name given him in the Temple at his circumcision when he was first dedicated to God.

We do the same when we baptize, naming them and dedicating them to God. I say the name they will be called, and mark them as Christ’s own forever.

One of the beautiful promises to believers in John’s Revelation is in the letter to the Church at Pergamum, 

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. [Revelation 2:17]


God has a special name for you, one that only God knows. A love name. A name for a Beloved. You may have or had one with your special someone. God feels the same way about us.

As we ponder this special, this precious, this Holy Name, may we appreciate and glory in it as we can.

As the old hymn sings out:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Sweetest name I know

Fills my every longing

Keeps me singing as I go. Amen

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Blessings, Rock