The Holy Name of Jesus
The federal government tracks a lot of information, including “The Top 10 Baby Names” for any given year.[i]For baby girls, currently the most popular name is Olivia, followed by Emma, then Charlotte, Amelia, Ava, Sophia… and on it goes. For baby boys, currently the most popular name is Liam, followed by Noah, then Oliver, Elijah, James, William… and on it goes.
The naming of a baby is no accident, don’t you know? The child’s given name or names may be the continuation of a family’s heritage, or the opposite: a sign of a family’s wanting to start afresh with the birth of this child. The child’s name may express identity, or dignity, or hope, or gratitude. Sometimes names demarcate a family’s history. One of my nephews has a middle name “Taif,” which is Saudi Arabian, because he was born while his father (my brother) was working in the Persian Gulf. We are known, remembered, identified, and called by name.
As children grow up, they will name their belongings, and they will be in relationship with everything they name. Children will often 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 cabin buddies that they should call me “Butch,” because I was tough. (That’s probably hard to imagine….) It worked pretty well for a week at camp, but my new identity disappeared when I returned home to face my little brother. He certainly did not know me as “Butch”; he was still struggling to simply say “Curtis” or “Curt,” which he could not pronounce. What he could say was “Dirt.” “Hi Dirt!”, which hardly suited someone trying to be “Butch.” For names to last, they need to fit.
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.