Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Feast of the Holy Name

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. —Luke 2:21

For secular revelers, January 1st is a day to sleep in, to write out New Year's resolutions, to reflect on 2007 and dream in 2008.

For those of us who observe today as the Feast of the Holy Name (of Jesus), our celebrant had his usual fascinating array of historical facts as well as his dry, well-placed humor. Until 1979, when our church officially changed the title of the feast day, today was called the Feast of the Circumcision. Eight days after Christmas, as was the Jewish law, Jesus was circumcised and named, the same name that the angel spoke before his conception.

Circumcision and naming were part and parcel of each other... as Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: "God sent his son... born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children." In other words, the child of Bethlehem, a Jew, was subject to the same unusual covenant with God as all the other Jewish male children. It wasn't just the custom, or a matter of cleanliness; circumcision was an outward and physical sign that the Law had been observed for another generation. For some this day is marked as the day of the first blood spilt by Jesus, to be echoed thirty-three years later on the cross. First blood spilt in observance of the law, and future blood spilt to redeem us from the law.

As he preached, our celebrant tied the importance of both observances together. Names, he reminded us, can tell us what someone does or who someone is. In Jesus' case the name does both. Jesus... Greek translation of Joshua (or Yeshua) a combination of two nouns in Hebrew: God and Salvation. Not only does "Jesus Save" (which some of us are forever exclaiming) but more importantly "The Lord IS Salvation." It is his very nature. The mystery here, of course, is why?

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