The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Phillipians 2:5-11 & Luke 2:15-21
After the long months of a pregnancy and the exceedingly dangerous experience of childbirth in the ancient world, bestowing a name upon a child must have been a deeply cathartic action. Even today, in the midst of the profound uncertainty that faces every new life, the moment a child’s name is first spoken aloud in his or presence signifies a new beginning rich with specific potential. The act of circumcision that accompanied – and still accompanies – the naming of a Jewish male child reminded the parents of a larger reality holding their new child in being: the ancient covenant between God and Israel. It situated the child on an axis of meaning both horizontally, in relation to his ancestors and his eventual offspring, as well as vertically, as a frail human creature in relation to the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Under normal circumstances, this was also the child’s first major wounding: the first shedding of blood.
A Name and a Wound. A sign taken upon the lips and tongue, and a sign written upon the body. In any ordinary human life, these are gifts of inexhaustible significance. At the same time they are utterly common, shared by countless others. The Holy Name of Jesus and the first precious drops of Blood spilled from his human body have become fountainheads of meaning for the Church throughout the ages. But contrary to the impression we receive from so many Renaissance paintings, the inner significance of these events would have been entirely hidden to the casual observer. The cosmic task initiated by God through the angel Gabriel is now brought to faithful, obedient completion by Mary and Joseph. But though it was spoken by the lips of an angel, the name Yeshua was, after all, an incredibly common name. The act of circumcision enfolded him into the common life of the Jewish people. The eighth day after the nativity of this special child was a very special day in the life of his human parents. But it was an utterly ordinary day for everyone else.
1 Cor. 15:1-11
Today we commemorate James of Jerusalem and the First Council of the Church.
The Gospel Reading for today identifies James as a brother of Jesus (v.55). The First reading, from the Book of Acts tells us of the decision reached by James as the Spokesperson of the First Council of Jerusalem (vv. 19-21). The reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians gives us evidence of Jesus’ appearance to James following his Resurrection (v.7). From this the inclusion of James as an apostle and his leadership of the Council are implied.
That Council, and the decision made by James, are of tremendous importance for the identity of the Church. Freed from bondage to the Law of Moses it would no longer be considered as a sect of Judaism. While not denying roots in the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, never the less, those coming to believe in Jesus Christ and his promises could begin to be a Body of Faithful believers, showing Jesus Christ to the World.