A sermon for Holy Name Day, January 1, 2017
Krista and I were having a conversation the other day about why it is that in our pageant the name of Jesus is initially referred to as Joshua, which is then explained to be translated into Greek as Jesus. This definition is a simplification of matters. The name Jesus has a very interesting history that traces both Church tradition and the history of language, to the point that the Jesus we know today has only been referred to as such for roughly the past 400ish years (although this is due to the hard J in Jesus developing out of a non-theological event: the Great Vowel Shift in late Middle English which would eventually see the letter I replaced with J in many instances).
When Jesus is named in the Biblical texts, the original texts which we can trace back to roughly 50-100 C.E., the name that is give is Ἰησοῦς. Iésous is a long-standing part of our tradition. When you look around a Church, perhaps in decorations or carvings or even on the linens, often you will see three letters: IHC. IHC, Latin (from the Greek) for: Iesus Hominum Salvator, is the traditional marker of Jesus’ name in the tradition of the Church: Jesus, Savior of Men.
This name, Iésous, is of Hebrew origin, which is not surprising, for we know that Jesus was a Jew, and because he was a Jew, then it would make sense that he be named in Hebrew and not the Greek that would record his story decades after the fact. The Hebrew name of Jesus, Iésous, is Yehoshua or Jehoshua, which is contracted to be Yeshua or Joshua. So Jesus is Joshua in Hebrew. And this is important, for this name that the angels give to Mary in one telling and Joseph in another, translates as YAHWEH saves or YAHWEH is salvation. Thus, when the angel tells Joseph that his soon to be born son is to be given the name Jesus/Joshua by Joseph, for Jesus is he who saves his people from sin, there is an understanding by Joseph as to why this name in particular, as to what this child will do for this world.
But, this isn’t the only name that will be associated with Jesus. In Matthew we hear “they shall call his name Emmanuel,” a name meaning that God is with us. Throughout the Gospels we hear of the many titles associated with Jesus: Jesus the Christ, Christ referencing his divinity, his status as the anointed one, it is the title Christ itself where we get the word Messiah, as Christ derives from the Hebrew mashiach; Jesus is also the logos, that is the Word of God, made incarnate in Jesus; he is the King of the Jews; he is rabboni, rabbi, the light of the world, a new Adam, son of Man, son of God, master, Lord. These titles and the names given to Jesus by heavenly command, illustrate the simple fact that the name of Jesus is not random. Everything about this name is quite intentional. Everything about this name is done with a purpose. And, it is also important to note, that Jesus is not the only Jesus of his time, let alone the only Jesus in our Bible.
As we know that Jesus is Joshua in Hebrew, we know of the Book of Joshua in the Hebrew scriptures. Joshua was a great leader of the people, who took up leading the Israelites after Moses’ death, an important lineage for a devout Jew like Jesus, much like our practice of utilizing Saint names today. In the New Testament we hear passing mention of another Jesus as an ancestor of Jesus the Christ in the Gospel of Luke, and also of a Jesus who is called Justus in Colossians. But perhaps the most famous Jesus of Biblical telling, outside of the Christ, is Jesus Barabbas. Jesus Barabbas is best known for being the other Jesus, the one that the crowd cries for release when Pilate offers to let Jesus Christ free. Jesus Bar-abbas, that is Jesus son of Abba, Jesus son of the father, plays an interesting foil in this story. A revolutionary, perhaps involved in a riot against the Roman Government, Jesus Barabbas is the one whom the people want freed. The fact that they want Jesus son of the Father, when Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel, is put before them, begins to show us what is truly in a name, and the importance we ascribe to these names, for while he may bring us salvation, be the manifestation of God with us, among us, we often can only see what is directly in front of us, can only see Barabbas when salvation stands stoic before us.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul writes “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
But, what is that name to which every knee bends?
Does every knee bend for mercy, justice, fairness?
What of the names of the hungry, the poor, the afflicted, the sick, the lesser and weak in this world, in our community, in our homes?
What about in the name of prosperity, comfortableness?
I think sometimes we get caught up in the moment like the crowd that cried out for Jesus Barabbas. We get caught up when we ignore the reality of the world around us, at what is actually happening, we get so caught up in our own lives, that we miss the reality of Jesus Christ that is ever present in our world and in our lives. For that is the message of Jesus’ name. Jesus is YAHWEH saves, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, the one who comes to save his people from sin, but it is our responsibility to recognize this reality in Jesus’ name, that the truth of Jesus’ name relies on us to spread the Good News of this name, to spread the Good News that is this name made manifest in the person and ministry that is Jesus. When this name was given to him by an angel before he was even conceived in the womb as Luke tells us today, it was given as a symbol for those who would come to follow. A reminder that the Good News of Jesus Christ is as much in the example of ministry that is left for us as in the heavenly ordained name that is attached to each and every one of these lessons.
With the first of the year it is popular in many traditions to make wishes for the New Year, to even make resolutions to make a wish become a reality in this coming year. When we make these resolutions and wishes, we do so because we want something better for ourselves, we want something better for the people immediately around us. But what if we also wanted something better for ourselves through bettering the lives of others around us? What would it look like if we took our resolution to get healthy, to eat better, to exercise more, to learn more, and made it about someone else as much as it is about us? What if we took this name of Jesus Christ, and lived it out into the world?
You want to get healthy and eat better? That’s great! Support local farms and help the environment. Support feeding programs and provide healthy food for those in our community who are the furthest removed from it. Support education programs that create opportunities for others to learn how to be healthy, even when in challenging times of their lives.
You want to exercise more? Fantastic! Walk more places. Spend more time as a family together as you walk/bike/hike. Get involved in after school programs that let you coach or simply play basketball with at-risk youth, with youth who hunger for adult role models, with youth who need you in their lives.
You want to learn more? Of course you do! And that doesn’t have to mean books (although you should support your local library). Stretch yourself. Support the arts in our community. Support opportunities to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone. Support programs that allow youth in our community to do the same. You might be surprised what you end up learning, both new skills and discoveries about yourself.
It is in these New Year Resolutions, these New Year wishes, that the name of Christ should be made manifest in how we live our lives. It is our responsibility to know what is promised us in the name of Christ. It is our responsibility to share this Good News with the world. It is our responsibility to see this Good News realized in our world. It is our responsibility to create a world where every knee shall bend at his name for it is the reality of world, rather than the countercultural movement we still struggle to accept in recognizing Jesus for who he is as he stands in front of us.