Dec 31, 2011-Jan 1, 2012
This weekend we celebrate one of the lesser known church holy days…
and it doesn’t include staying up until midnight or making resolutions!
It’s called the day of the “Name of Jesus” Day
and is celebrated on the 8th day of Jesus’ birth which if you count it out is today.
The book of Leviticus instructed the Israelites (and then all Jews followed suit)
to bring their male children on the 8th day of their birth
From that day on, their bodies indelibly wore the mark of the covenant.
Their bodies became the sign that they were chosen people of God –
On that same day, a name was given to the child.
Traditionally, the child was not spoken of by name until that 8th day
lest demons snatch the name away from him.
Mary and Joseph followed tradition with their newborn son,
making sure that Jewish ritual was followed.
Jesus was circumcised,
and then they gave him a name – and it wasn’t just any name –
it was the name the angel Gabriel had told Mary he would be named –
he was named Jesus.
So why is this such a big deal?
Why make a holiday out of a circumcision and a name?
I see at least two reasons this day is important.
The first is the obedience of Mary and Joseph.
The second is the meaning of the name itself.
First of all – the obedience of Mary and Joseph.
Many parents agonize quite a bit about a name to give their children.
They review books and websites to learn the meanings of names.
They talk about names with each other and rule out certain ones because of bad associations…
This sound familiar?…“Oh we can’t name him Chet – there was a boy in my 4th grade class named Chet who pulled my hair!”
Sometimes there’s a family name which is traditional.
Sometimes a favorite athlete or movie star name is chosen –
when Shirley Temple was popular in the late 30’s, for years, “Shirley” was one the most popular girls’ names of all time!
The lists are out – if you were a boy born in theUSin 2011, according to the Social Security Administration, the most popular names were:
Jacob, Ethan, or Michael.
The most popular girls’ names were:
Isabella, Sophia, or Emma.
I don’t know if Mary and Joseph agonized over the name for their first child or not.
Their agony would have been for a very different reason.
For them, if they followed through and gave the child the name told
them by the angel Gabriel, they knew there would be no turning back.
They would never be an ordinary Jewish family raising an ordinary Jewish boy.
Their lives would be forever changed.
I wonder if at that point, Mary and Joseph might have said,
‘No. We’re not going to name him that.”
“We’re going to give him a sensible name – one like Samuel or Jonah.”
Anything but “Jesus” – anything but the name of the one who was foretold to bring
suffering into his own life,
even as he brought salvation to the world.
By naming their boy ‘Jesus’, Mary and Joseph
opened their arms and released their son to God;
he was no longer a child just for them – he became a child for the world.
This model of faithfulness; this model of obedience and trust;
is the first reason this day is important.
The second reason this day is important, is the name itself.
The name, “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name, Yeshua or Joshua – meaning “God saves.”
A name gives identity and confers blessing.
The naming of Jesus conferred blessing to him as well.
The blessing was that he would always bear God’s name too.
There’s an Old Testament reading assigned for this day from the book of Numbers which has one of the most familiar blessings in the Bible.
We don’t often preach from the book of Numbers,
because – well – because Numbers is a book with a lot of numbers.
There’s chapter upon chapter of census information – it’s a lot like reading the telephone book.
But in chapter six, mixed among some instructions for those who would become monk-like nazarites,
there’s a beautiful blessing.
God commands Moses to tell his brother Aaron and the priests to offer the following blessing for the people:
24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
The blessing offers
protection for travel;
it promises God’s shining face – God’s smiling over them;
it promises God’s love to be with them;
it promises God’s peace – God’s shalom – a word which conveys not only peace, but safety, security, happiness, friendship and well-being to be given to them.
It’s a beautiful blessing – but the passage in Numbers doesn’t stop there.
After pronouncing the blessing, God continues,
“So (by this blessing) shall they put my name on the Israelites.”
It seems that some in the ancient world took this verse literally.
The oldest known fragments of the Bible, dating back to the 7th century BC
have this blessing on two small silver plaques, about the size of cigarettes.
They look like they’re meant to be worn around the person.
They could literally bear God’s name on them.
…I think we can understand the feeling behind the action.
I think we can understand the yearning to really feel God’s blessing upon us.
By this blessing, God’s name was put on the Israelites.
By this blessing, they were no longer simply Samuel or Jonah – they had God’s name on them as well.
By this blessing, God’s name was put on Jesus.
By this blessing, God’s name has been put on us too.
Whether our name is Joe or Pete or Shirley or Sophia,
the second reason this day is important is that it reminds us that
just as Jesus bears God’s name,
we bear God’s name too.
Most of the rest of the world is not celebrating the Name of Jesus today.
Most of the rest of the world is celebrating the beginning of another year.
Maybe it’s a good time for us to look back over the year through the lens of the name we bear.
This year, where have we borne God’s name?
Where has God protected us?
When has God smiled upon us?
Where have we seen God’s love?
Where have we experienced God’s shalom?
At the close of this morning’s service, Pr. Mike will close with the words of Aaron’s blessing.
As we go out into a new year, we will go out wearing God’s name and bearing God’s blessing.
May 2012 be a year in which we live fully into the name we have been given.