The Holy Name
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer simplified many of our way too long and redundant liturgies. It did this, in many cases, by recovering and restoring the liturgies of the early church, before we started “adding on” words and actions that really did more to stroke personal egos and induce guilt than to enhance worship.

But one of the great and meaningful parts of the baptism liturgy lost between the ’28 and 79 books, in my opinion—and one that I tend to include anyway—is the naming of the child. That part of the liturgy when the parents, at the priest’s bidding, call out loud the name by which the child will be known (and baptized). It’s an important part of this initiation event, when the child is given his or her “Christian” family name.

Of course, the reason that part of the service may seem no longer appropriate is that baptisms are done much further out from the child’s birth than in earlier times. Children used to be baptized within days of childbirth. Now it’s weeks, months, sometimes years between the birth event and the “new birth” event. Maybe the church liturgists, in their attempts to keep things basic, simple, uncluttered, thought this was a needless part of the service, since the child had already been introduced countless times by name, since the child and the name were already fitted together in and by the community.

About 25 years ago, I had an opportunity to spend some time in Africa and work in the Church there. Many of the baptisms there happen as a result of conversion. And thus many of the baptismal candidates are adults. They’ve had their names for a long time. They are known by that name and by their past life. So when a person is baptized there, reborn to a new life, they actually take a different name, take a new name, and that name is given to them at the time of their baptism.

In our gospel lesson today, we’re told that Jesus, eight days after his birth, was taken to the temple to be circumcised; this was a Jewish rite of passage much like baptism is for us today. And it was at this ceremony, that he was given the name Jesus, the name given from heaven. According to Luke, “the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

It is the name, says Paul, before whom every knee should bend and every head bow. It is the name that we sing is the “Name above all names.” Or “all hail the power of Jesus’ name.” We pray in his name. We gather in his name. We baptize in his name. We minister in his name.

And we celebrate on January 1st, on this holy day, the Holy Name of Jesus. And, of course, the wonder, the celebration, is not so much in the name itself, but who and what that name represents. It is for us the name of love, the name of peace, the name of grace, of mercy, of hope, of healing, of wholeness and forgiveness and salvation. It is the name we call on when we have needs. It is the name we call on when we give thanks. The name we call when have joy or despair. It is the name of our Lord and Savior, who answers when we call.

So let us on this day bless the Holy Name of Jesus. For what other name would we call? What other name would we use to praise God than the one who came from God and showed us the perfect example of God’s love? Who else? What other name would we bless and make holy than the name of the one who blesses us, and keeps us, in his name.

And in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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