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The Holy Name of Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

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Psalm 8; Luke 2:15-21

You may have seen The New York Times’ front-page article several days ago about the naming of babies, what the article called “the annual most-popular-baby-name derby.”  From all across the United States in year 2011, the four most popular names given to baby boys were Jacob, Ethan, Michael, and Jayden; and for baby girls, Isabella, Sophia, Emma, Olivia.1

The naming of a baby is no accident.  Often times there is great care taken in the naming of a newborn child, don’t you know.  The child’s given name or names may be a sign of the continuation of a family’s heritage, or a sign of a family’s wanting to start anew, signified in the birth of this child.  The child’s name may express identity or hope or gratitude, or through the name, the parents may seek to bestow dignity or particular significance on the child’s birth.  Sometimes names demarcate a family’s history.  – One of my nephews has a middle name “Taif,” which is a Saudi Arabian name, because this nephew was born while his father (my brother) was serving in the Persian Gulf. 

As children grow up, they will name their belongings, and the children shall be in relationship with everything they name.  They often will take on new, imaginary names for themselves, and with the names, new exploratory identities.  I remember one summer, as a young camper far away from home, I told all my new cabin buddies that they should call me “Butch,” because I was tough.  (Hard, perhaps, to imagine….)  It worked pretty well for a week at camp, but my new sought-after identity was ground to dust when I returned home and had to face my baby brother.  He certainly didn’t know me as “Butch”; he was still struggling to simply say my name “Curtis” or “Curt,” which he could not pronounce.  He ended up calling me what he could pronounce, which was “Durt.”  “Hi Durt!” he was always saying, which hardly suited someone working at being tough as Butch.

Sooner or later, most of us as children or adults will suffer the wound of being called a name, a derogatory name, not of our choosing.  Very wounding.  The name-calling may be associated with our given name which has been twisted into something cruel or comical sounding; maybe it’s a name which jeers at some physical trait or mannerism we bear; maybe the name mocks our ethnic or racial or religious heritage; maybe the name is a sign of others’ jealousy.  On the other hand, a person might be given an endearing nickname, perhaps a diminutive, as a token of affection.  I received an email from an older acquaintance named ‘Edgar,’ who is a wise and much-respected person of great stature.  His email address is “edgarito” (little Edgar), which is how he was affectionately known as a child.  Very endearing.

In government and politics, great intention and ceremony is often given to naming parks and benches and fountains, buildings and bridges, highways and airports, economic programs and military campaigns.  Universities name their endowed academic chairs. Fundraisers often name benefactors in annual reports and on wall plaques.  Books are dedicated in the name of those dear to the author.  In the corporate world, the greatest imagination and care is taken in naming new products, like perfumes or medications or detergents or cars or toys.  The name needs to both fit the product and yet also help form its image.  Everything important is given a name.  And in the name and in the naming, there is the power of both identity and relationship, whether it be the name of a person or a place or a creature or a thing.

It is equally true in the Bible.  There is a preoccupation with names and naming.  In the creation account in the Book of Genesis, Adam is given his name, and he then names most everything else in sight – everything from animals to children.  When someone is given a name, this person is set apart.2  Our name is what uniquely distinguishes us from others; however our name also relates us to others, because others will call us by our name, and therefore can know us, include us, and have a certain claim on their relationship to us.

In the scriptures, especially in the Psalms, there is a frequent reverencing of the unspeakable Name of God.  In the Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 8, we hear, “O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world!” In Psalm 31 we hear, “For the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.”  Psalm 145 begins: “I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name for ever and ever.” It’s a curious phrase – to bless God’s Name or to praise God’s Name or to petition God, for the sake of God’s Name.  How dare we have such intimate access to God as to lay claim on God’s Name?  So great and awesome is God, whose ways were unknowable; whose power, unpredictable; whose distance, unfathomable; whose rage, uncontrollable; whose face, unseeable; whose hands, untouchable; whose Name, unspeakable.

And yet God, Creator of all, who is otherwise beyond our grasp, takes on face and form as a child of Bethlehem.  God is re-presented in our world, born just like we are, with hands and a heart and eyes, with desires and expectations and fears… and given a pronounceable name: Jesus. A name which both distinguishes him – that is, sets him apart from us – and meanwhile opens a personal relationship between us, because we can know him and call on him by name.

Do you know the experience of having a friend or colleague tell you, “When you have your meeting, when you talk with so and so, go ahead and use my name”?  In the world of business or diplomacy, we call this a referral.  In the political world, we can call this a lobbying effort.  In the world of friendship, we can call this “making a connection.”  In the language of prayer, we call this an intercession or supplication.  Some days I think our best prayer, our best plea, our best praise is simply to “namedrop”: to use the name that God has finally shared with us: namely, Jesus, which literally means, “Yahweh saves.”  You have Jesus’ name, Jesus who is intent on saving you from whatever it is that just kills you. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the great 12th century abbot, said the name of Jesus is medicine for your soul.  “Is any one among you sad? Let Jesus come into your heart, and your mouth echo his name, saying Jesus!  Jesus!  Jesus!  Jesus! and lo! the light of that Name disperses every cloud, and brings sunshine back again.”3

We have been given Jesus’ name.  Use it.  Breathe the name of Jesus as you make your way through the day.  Breathe the name of Jesus while you watch, or wait, or worry, or wonder.  Breathe the name of Jesus for yourself and for others, even for those outside our own circle of faith.  Jesus will live up to his name for you.

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the Living God:
Have mercy upon me.

This is “The Jesus Prayer”:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the Living God:
Have mercy upon me.4

Breathe the name, use the name “Jesus,” because there is influence and identification and relationship in claiming and using and sharing a name: Jesus.  Go ahead and use the name we’ve been given, the name of Jesus.  Breathe the name of Jesus:

breathe in the name of Jesus;
breathe out the name of Jesus.
breathe in the name of Jesus;
breathe out the name of Jesus.
breathe in the name of Jesus;
breathe out the name of Jesus.

[1] An article in the New York Times on December 28, 2011, references The Social Security Administration’s listing of most popular baby names in 2010: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/

[1] We read in the Genesis creation account: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” – Genesis 2:19

[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 –1153), French abbot and primary reformer of the Cistercian order, preached that “the Name of Jesus is Light, and Food, and Medicine.  It is Light, when it is preached to us; it is Food, when we think upon it; it is the Medicine that soothes our pains when we invoke it….”  St. Bernard writes in verse:

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast!
Yet sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find,
A sweeter sound than Jesus’ name,
The Savior of mankind.
O hope of every contrite heart!
O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah!
this Nor tongue nor pen can show
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.
Jesus! our only hope be Thou,
As Thou our prize shalt be;
In Thee be all our glory now,
And through eternity.  Amen.

[1] The Jesus Prayer, noted in The Way of the Pilgrim, dates from the 1850s in Irkutsk, Russia: “…The con­tinuous interior Prayer of Jesus is a con­stant unin­terrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart; while forming a mental pic­ture of his con­stant presence, and im­plor­ing his grace, during every occupa­tion, at all times, in all places, even during sle

 

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6 Comments

  1. Louis Cavaliere on January 2, 2017 at 11:36

    Curtis, The Jesus prayer keeps coming back to me, even on the NY City subway. It tunes everything out!
    Thanks for the reminder. Very special!
    Lou

  2. Ruth West on January 1, 2017 at 19:22

    I love this Sunday when we emphasize the Holy Name of Jesus. He has many names, but none better than that which was given to Him in the temple when he was presented to the Lord God.
    I have, so many times, breathed the name of Jesus when my heart was so full, confused, or broken that I could not compose another prayer. What power there is in His name!
    Thanks for this good homily.

  3. Phyllis Beauchamp, Oblate,SSJD on January 1, 2017 at 18:35

    Your words touched my experiences at many levels.With tears in my eyes, I’ve finished reading this most beautiful sermon and my heart soared so that I did not even want it to end.
    When I first converted to Christianity, I would cry just hearing His name out loud. I later realized the sound of His name, or hearing that “Jesus loved me” was healing–as I cried out the pain of my past.
    Thank you for expanding my understanding of the power of Jesus’ name at a much deeper level.

  4. Maryella Sirmon on January 1, 2017 at 10:46

    What a new year’s blessing to see the affirmation of something I do very often — just say His name and hold fast to it.

  5. Eva on January 1, 2017 at 08:40

    “Some days I think our best prayer, our best plea, our best praise is simply to “namedrop”: to use the name that God has finally shared with us: namely, Jesus, which literally means, “Yahweh saves.” ” – Thank you.

  6. Judy on January 1, 2014 at 08:56

    What a wonderful message to receive at the dawn of this new year

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