Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here we are on the first Sunday after Christmas. Our trees may still be up–if you're a purist like me and won’t take them down until Epiphany; decorations may slowly be coming down–since it got a little warmer outside; presents are probably all distributed and toys have been opened and played with a little bit.
There’s whispers of Christmas in the air on this 8th day of Christmas. We’re trying to decide if we’re sick of Christmas songs yet or if we just want to hold on a little bit longer. It’s also New Year’s Day! Who knows what happened last night, but for many of us, we’re still trying to sort out our thoughts, our reflections from the last year.
Some of us might be looking around saying, “what happened to the year?” Maybe we scrolled through pictures in the last couple days. It's a contemplative kind of in between time; there’s hope and expectation for the next year ahead, –maybe things will be different. Maybe things will be better; maybe people will be kinder; maybe we’ll be kinder to ourselves. Maybe we’ll finally start that workout regimen and join a gym again. Maybe this pandemic will finally be put to rest, or maybe it won't. God only knows.
I imagine I’m not the only one who’s been struggling to put a finger on this year; to make sense of the jumbled thoughts in our heads; to figure out if those leftovers are actually still good in the fridge from Christmas, which they’re probably not.
So today we come together as a faith community; one together in the body of Christ, under the name of Jesus today; the festival in which we celebrate.
When I think about Jesus’ name, I think about all the different names we have for Jesus. Someone said, “Jesus has a lot of nicknames doesn’t he?
It makes me think: ”At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord” and the verse we heard a lot at Christmas: “for he is named: wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace,” and that’s only a smattering of his names.
I also think about what it was like for Mary. First of all, an angel of the Lord appeared to her and told her she’s going to immaculately conceive, and bear the son of God. She has some choice in the matter; She gets to say yes, but she doesn’t get to choose his name. The name is Jesus and in Hebrew it means, “The Lord Saves.” It’s also very close to Joshua, the one who took the baton for Moses and entered the promised land with the people. In some gospels Jesus is the fulfillment of the old testament. Jesus, is the new Moses or Joshua.
So why does it matter that he’s named Jesus? Why couldn’t he be named Jason or Jackson or Jude? What’s in a name?
In literature, in the old testament and in some folklore, if we know someone’s name, we hold some power over them. I think of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, and the mystery figure Jacob wrestled with all night in the bible. I think of Adam given dominion over the animals naming each of them and caring for them. There is power in naming and in names themselves.
Being named Jesus, he has roots in the Jewish faith, and as we see in the gospel today, his parents were devout, faithful Jews. They brought him to the temple on the eighth day to be circumcised, which also foreshadows that he will join us in our pain, one day, when he suffers death on the cross for all of us.
-It shows that he’s not exempt from all of those milestone moments that we have as humans; that he was born in a specific cultural context, and a specific time and place, ‘born of the Virgin Mary suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried,’ as our creed says.
He’s given the name Jesus to remind us, all of us, that we are not alone in this world; that, just as Psalm 8 says, no matter how vast the universe, no matter how much our creator crafted, and made– down to the blades of grass, and the hairs on our heads–God cares for us, loves us and considers us good; created good for good. As humans, we are named and claimed, especially in our baptism as God's beloved children; holy and precious in his sight. We are never apart from the one who names us; never apart from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
—I like to hear of people’s stories about their names. There’s such a richness surrounding the story of someone’s name… and it’s a great icebreaker. My name is Amy and it means Beloved. My Dad, in agreement with my Mom, named me Amy because he wanted an Amy–which turned out to be one of the most popular names in the 80’s, mostly. My middle name is Louise after my great aunt Louise. I never knew her but I appreciate the connection to my family through that name.
We named our daughter Maya, because I have a deep admiration and appreciation for the author, Maya Angelou. Jacob gave her a very unique middle name, Tomyris–, because he wanted her to know that she is a strong, independent, powerful woman. Tomyris was the queen of the Masegitia who defeated Cyrus the Great–this is from a classics major so you understand where that comes from. I wasn't so sure about that middle name but then it grew on me.
I wonder if Jesus liked his name or if it took him a while to come around to it. There's nothing more central to who we are or who we want to be, than the name we’re given, or the name we choose. I know a number of beautiful friends and family who have transitioned from being male to female or female to male, and have given themselves a new name. Names matter. They help us see ourselves as who we want to be, as who God made us to be.
On this New Year’s day, the first day of a brand new year, let us remember regardless of the goals we set, the lists we make for ourselves, the hopes and expectations, the pressure and privileges; the dreams and the bars we set for ourselves; Ultimately, we are enough, just as we are–no matter if we like our name or not or if we feel comfortable in the skin and name God gave us. God loves us; God knows us; God claims us as God’s beloved children fully loved just as we are.
So on this first day of a new year I’d like to read you a blessing from a book I turn to quite frequently for sustenance called Ash & Starlight: prayers for the chaos & grace of daily life by Arianne Braithwaite Lehn. Blessings are a language all in themselves and I have found a deep resonance with blessings that name where we are and where we want to be. I pray you take something home with you today from this blessing.
For the New Year
I thank you for holding my
Hand in this fresh, new year...
Against my inclination
and with your help,
I let go of my desire for
more control over my life.
My hunger to know what's coming
and to be ready for it.
My expectation to be in charge.
Have you not taught me again and again
how the joy is in the flexibility?
How all the unexpected,
the unwanted, the unexplained
things coalesce to charge me into
the person I really want to be?
Even the changes I ask for,
the changes I wanted,
can cause anxiety.
Treading on this shiting soil
calls for a steadiness
beyond my own capabilities
So, I trust your hand to hold mine,
carrying me into this new land—
good but different.
You are my Birthichangeng Mother,
always open to chnage.
You keep showing me
while change is eternally constant,
so is your presence.
You engrain in me
how hope is born through struggle
and the fresh start brought through
change is an invitation to grow.
Whenver something leaves,
something new comes.
Please give me the
wisdom of soul, Loving One,
to look for it.
For, a soft heart open to newness
sensitive to others' pain,
resilient with hope,
trusting in darkness...
this is the heart for
which I pray this year.
— from Ash and Starlight by Arianne Braithwaite Lehn