The Holiness of Names

The Holy Name of Jesus,

Two themes merge in this evening’s celebration: our commemoration of the eighth day of Jesus’ life when he was formally given his name; and, of course, our celebration of New Year’s eve, the end of one year (and in this case decade) and the beginning of another.

Our Lessons tonight are all about names. The reading from Exodus is the source of the famous Priestly blessing (the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace). But every time we read the word “Lord” in English in this passage it is translating the Hebrew Word “Yahweh,” the very Name of God for the Jewish people. Just knowing that name (being on a first name basis with God) was enough to bring them peace…in the midst of every storm!

The Psalm says: O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world. The Name of Yahweh! The reading from Luke gives us our theme for the day and reminds us that Jesus was circumcised on his eighth day and “was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21). That name is Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew and means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh will save.”

And finally Paul reminds the Christians in Philippi that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth…” (2:5-11) It’s all about names! And just as the Jews feel themselves to be on a first name basis with Yahweh, so Christians are on a first Name basis with Jesus. We don’t have to call him “our Lord” or “Christ” or even “Jesus Christ” (as though Christ was his last name!) We can simply call him Jesus, and in that intimacy, be addressing Yahweh, the God of Israel as well!

This has been one heck of year and, even more, one heck of a decade. Beginning with 9/11…proceeding through two wars (still raging) in Iraq and Afghanistan…and concluding with perhaps the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. It’s been a decade of violence, greed and corruption. Yet, through it all, the sacred Name of Yahweh has sustained the Jewish people; and the Holy Name of Jesus has sustained us.

There’s a great Eastern Orthodox prayer which comes to us from the Desert Fathers and Mothers and from the great monks and nuns of the Russian Church. It pieces together two lines from the Gospels and simply reads, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is said over and over again, like a calming mantra, often in time with one’s breathing. I often use it to fall off to sleep, or when I’m anxious or worried. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

I commend it to your use in the New Year. It is said that, if you pray it often enough, the prayer actually enters your heart and prays itself whether you are conscious or not. What better way to honor the point of our Collect tonight, “Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy Name of Jesus to the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Lord have mercy upon us all…in this New Year!

4 Responses to “The Holiness of Names”

  1. Anders Branderud Says:

    You claim that ”Yeshua” means salvation.

    Here is the etymological definition:
    י–ה [is] national-salvation or military-salvation; contracted to the cognomen יְשוּעַ (Yәshu′a), from the unused root verb יַשַׁע (to deliver nationally or militarily, to save nationally or militarily). This term is never used of the Hellenist concept of “personal salvation” in the Bible or in Judaism. The verb is used in the hiph•il′: הוֹשִׁיעַ(ho•shi′a; he saved nationally or militarily, delivered nationally or militarily or came to the rescue nationally or militarily).

    The verb is used in the same sense as its English counterpart was used in the old west: “The calvary will save us”—except for Jews ha-Sheim will save us (nationally and militarily from our enemies). There is no support for the “personal salvation” doctrine of Christianity. At the personal level there is, instead, ki•pur′—restricted to those who do their utmost to keep Tor•âh′. (from in which you also will find the teachings of Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) ;Glossaries; slightly edited)

    Anders Branderud

  2. Bishop Chris Epting Says:

    I never said Yeshua (Yahweh saves or Yahweh will save) had anything to do with “a Hellenistic concept of personal salvation.” It would, no doubt, have been understood in just the Hebraic way you describe.

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