Holy Name Day
‘Come here Geoffrey!’ Someone shouted that to their child in the supermarket the other day and I jumped! They weren’t talking to me, but I jumped when I heard my name. When someone uses your name, you notice; it’s a sign that they know us. When they use our first name, our given name, it means a degree of intimacy.
Today is the first day of a New Year – the Year of our Lord 2021, and we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. We give thanks that through Jesus we have been given the gift of intimacy with God. St Paul tells us that, ‘God has sent the Spirit of his son Jesus into our hearts, crying Abba, Father.’ We have the wonderful privilege as Christians of being able to pray to our Father with the same closeness and intimacy which Jesus has with his Father – to make our prayer ‘in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Throughout Scripture, God’s use of names is very important, and part of God’s act of creation. In the account of creation in Genesis, whenever God calls each part of creation into being he calls it by a name.: ‘He called the light day, the darkness night.’ But God goes on creating right through the pages of Scripture. Most notably he takes men and women and carries on creating them throughout their lives. God enters a person’s life and draws gifts and qualities out of them which they could hardly have dreamt of, and as a sign of this he calls them by a new name. God calls Abram and makes a covenant with him. He will be the father of a multitude of nations, and will be called ‘Abra-ham’, which means ‘father of a multitude.’ Jacob wrestles with an angel all night long, and in the morning the angel blesses him and says, ‘You have striven with God and prevailed – you shall now be called ‘Israel’. The name ‘Isra-el’ means ‘striven with God’, and the word ‘El’ means ‘God’. So, Jacob actually receives the name of God into his new name. What an extraordinary act of intimacy.
And so it is, on this first day of a new year, that the very first thing that we celebrate is the name of Jesus; because we too, like Abraham and Jacob, we too have been intimately joined with God and made holy. St Paul in Romans chapter 6, says, ‘You have been baptized into Jesus Christ.’ So just as Jacob was made holy when God gave him the sacred name ‘EL’, so we are made holy when we were baptized into the sacred name of Jesus. We become united with Jesus, adopted by grace, into a place of deep intimacy with God our Father.
God called us and made us holy, for a purpose. And that is that we may share in God’s continuing work of creation. We are called to be co-creators with God. As we stand on the cusp of this new year, we look back over the year that has passed; a year filled with so much suffering and loss. It’s a good time, a good opportunity for us to look back and reflect. How did I play my part in sharing in God’s work of creation during 2020? What did I do to bring healing, or hope, or joy to another? It may have been that kind word, that card I sent, the smile I gave, that meal I made and took round to someone confined to home. Give thanks to God for all the opportunities we had to serve.
On this day we look back to the year that has passed. But above all, at the start of this new year, we look forward; forward to the challenges of these next twelve months. Where will God invite me to share in the work of creation? Where will we have the opportunity to serve God in the work to which we have each been called – by name?
So, as we begin 2021, I invite each of you to join me in offering ourselves again to God to be used in God’s service. There is a wonderful prayer written by John Wesley, and used each year at the ‘Watch Night’ service. Held at the start of each new year. I don’t know a better prayer with which to begin a new year. Perhaps we can make it our own:
‘Lord I am no longer my own but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee, or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and service. And now O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine and I am thine. So be it. AMEN’
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