A happy New Year, everybody, and a blessed feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church year begins on Advent 1, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the end of 2016. The turbulent presidential campaign, way too many terrorist attacks here and abroad, all the celebrity deaths, and of course the loss of many of our own have made 2016 a year of mourning, a year when our faith was both tested and relied upon, a year in which we called out our Lord’s holy name for comfort and courage.
“On January 1st, we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ. Since we are more squeamish than our ancestors, modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, but the other emphasis is the older. Every Jewish boy was circumcised (and formally named) on the eighth day of his life, and so, one week after Christmas, we celebrate the occasion when Our Lord first shed His blood for us.”1
The name He was given was, of course, Jesus, or at least kinda. When asked at the Temple on that eighth day what the Child’s name was, Joseph and Mary would have said Yeshua, Joshua, a fairly common name for Jewish boys, a name which means “God saves”. We get from Yeshua to Jesus by way of the Koine Greek translation of the name filtered through the Latin way of writing it out. The name was common, yes, but lest we think that naming the boy Josh was uninspired, it’s good for us to remember that it was actually inspired, given to the Child by God through the Archangel Gabriel.
It’s good to remember that God doesn’t mess around with names. “Throughout Sacred Scripture, God Himself names those who have a great role to play in our salvation. As recorded in… Genesis, He named the first man Adam, which means “Man of the Earth”, and He changed the name of our spiritual Father from Abram to “Abraham,” which means “Father of Many Nations,” and changed that of Abraham’s wife, Sarai, to “Sarah,” which means “Princess” and foretells that she would be the spiritual mother to kings. (Even St. Peter) had been named “Simon” before he became “Peter” to signify his status as the earthly rock of the Church as Christ is the Foundation and Head.”2 The Gospel lesson for this Friday before Christmas was the story of the naming of John the Baptist, a name which was also given to his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah by way of Gabriel. God Himself dared to let mankind know His name through Moses, which we have received as “I AM”. But no one really knows how to pronounce the Hebrew of the proper Name itself, because the Name was considered so holy they locked it away in code and essentially threw away the key, which might just be better for all of us.
“The early preachers of the Gospel (laid) stress on the name as showing that Jesus was a man of flesh and blood, though also the Son of God.”3 We hear about the two natures of Jesus, His human nature and His divine nature, how those two natures were present in Him and yet not confused, neither dominating the other, and if we’re honest, we admit that we can’t or don’t really understand that on a concrete level, but we have the luxury of not having to fight over it the way the Fathers of the Church had to. The point of the fight was to establish the truth about Jesus, that He was not just some sort of spirit which didn’t have to live with the trials and temptations that we have to, but fully one of us, capable of knowing a mother’s touch and the joys of friendship but also subject to suffering and death. The Word becoming flesh, the Son of God giving up His throne in Heaven and volunteering, as it were, to become mortal, is the primary sacrifice of God. What Christ did on the Cross is the culmination, not the beginning of that sacrifice.
Today we say hello to a new year, and if you’re anything like me, to dating your correspondence wrong for about a month. And though we know that there’s nothing magical about it, that our resolutions will most likely be dropped by the 17th (that’s science, btw!), we can begin this new year with the best of intentions, and I mean that seriously; let’s together make our intentions and prayers for the freedom and peace that is found only in the powerful and holy Name of Jesus.
3Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 116.