A Sermon from the Church of
Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on January 1, 2023 (Holy Name)
One of the greatest responsibilities a parent has is the naming of a child. I remember feeling the pressure when Bryna was pregnant with our first one. I felt that if I gave him or her — we waited to find out the sex — the wrong name it would prove disastrous. I didn’t want to be responsible for my child getting beat up on the playground because of his name. Or not getting a promotion because no one could possibly take him seriously. And of course, if we gave the child the perfect name, it would greatly increase the chances that he or she would grow up to be the President or at least a famous actor.
In the end we named our firstborn Andrew Benedict and we called him Ben. Andrew for my late father and Benedict for one of my favorite saints — plus we just liked the name. Initially we were going to call him Benedict Andrew, but I messed up too many times while he was in utero and called him Benedict Arnold. So we saddled him with his middle name being used as his first name. What can I say? Unlike Joseph, we didn’t have an angel show up and tell us what to name him.
I have naming on my mind this morning, because today is known as the Feast of the Holy Name. Every year on January first we hear the story of Jesus being named Jesus. The reason has nothing to do with the New Year or resolutions or even hangovers — there is, by the way, a special crown of righteousness reserved for those who show up to the 8 o’clock service on New Year’s Day. It’s the Feast of the Holy Name because under the Law of Moses, a child was named eight days after the birth. Now that’s not the only thing that happened to a male child eight days after his entrance into the world. As we heard in Luke’s gospel this morning, he was also circumcised.
And for many years this day in the church calendar was called the Feast of the Circumcision. Fortunately the Episcopal Church decided to rebrand it and it has been the Feast of the Holy Name ever since the not-so-new-anymore 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
So, about this name. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we heard an angel of the Lord appear to Joseph in a dream and say, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” That’s because the name “Jesus” derives from the Hebrew form of Joshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” And of course, that’s what Jesus does. He has come into the world to save us from sin and death. So when we talk about Jesus as our Savior, when we sing “Christ the Savior is born” on Christmas Eve, we are also paying homage to his name. The name, we just heard in the letter to the Philippians, “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.”
That verse is why you’ll sometimes see me and other Christians bowing their heads slightly as a form of reverence when the name “Jesus” is uttered in liturgy. There is power in the name of Jesus. When we invoke his name in prayer — either in private or as the gathered community — we are boldly proclaiming that we believe the Son of God will save us. From fear, from isolation, from sin, from death.
But invoking Jesus’ name doesn’t just happen when we pray. We also boldly proclaim Jesus’ name through our actions. When we visit the sick or show compassion to the lonely; when we feed the hungry or share our resources with those in need; when we comfort the bereaved or show kindness to a stranger.
The name of Jesus is a powerful name. Which is perhaps why we call him so many things in addition to Jesus: Prince of Peace, Son of God, Lord, Messiah. He is all of these things. But whatever you call him and however you address him, say his name. Often and without ceasing. In prayer and action. In so doing, you will be drawn ever closer to the very heart of Jesus.