The Holy Name — The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Numbers 6:22-27                                                        
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Num 6:24-26)

What a delightful way to bring in a new year…with blessing and peace.

While today is New Year’s Day, it is also the day we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name.

Holy Name…that means Jesus, of course.

Eight days after his birth, it was time to circumcise Jesus…a rite in which he was named:

“Jesus”
from “Joshua,”
meaning “God is salvation.”

As we hear in Philippians:
“God has 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 is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)

In ancient Jewish tradition a child is circumcised and named on the 8th day of life. This ritual is considered a sign of the covenant between God and God’s people, and it dates back to the time of Abraham.

One’s name provides identity before God.

I remember one of my seminary professors standing in front of the class and raising his hands up as if holding a child, imitating the way a father would hold up his child, claiming that child by giving a name.

We do a similar thing when we baptize a child.

As a child – or adult – is baptized and passed through the waters, that child of God is named as they are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

They are then sealed with oil and raised up, claimed and named by God as God’s very own!

Now I know I’m getting ahead of myself just a little as next week we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord and will baptize little Wilder into the household of God, but bear with me.

Today, too, we hear of naming and blessing and peace.

In the letter to the Philippians we hear:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who…emptied himself…and…humbled himself
and became obedient….”

 

Being named and claimed brings a blessing and a peace.
We belong to God.
We are God’s people, and Jesus has come among us to heal us and to show us what a life looks like that has been claimed by God and that lives in attentive listening toward God….a life that is lived knowing the fullness of God’s abiding love.

 

We are called to be witnesses to that love.
There are many in this world and in this community who do not experience a naming and claiming as anyone’s beloved.

 

Many years ago as part of a prison ministry I helped give rides to a prison in South Georgia so that family members and friends could visit their loved ones once a month.

One day I got a card from a man at the prison. He wanted to thank us for bringing folks to the prison to visit.

He had no family or friends who came to visit him, but he said that each month as he saw the church vans pull into the parking lot, it filled him with hope. If someone cared enough to bring folks to visit, maybe there were some good-hearted folks in the world.

On the flip-side, another man in prison said to me, “If no one cares about me, why should I care about anyone else?”

This week in Durham is the Week of Peace.

Since January 1, 2015, 462 young black and Latino men have been shot in Durham. That is a lot of people. 462 brothers, sons and fathers.

My son posits that people can take a life because they do not value their own, meaning they do not feel valued: they do not feel named and claimed by someone who loves them.

That is what evangelism is about…naming and proclaiming God’s love for another human being – whether or not you use the word “God.”

How do we take our own sense of being called by name and being claimed by God and do the same for others?

Every time I see one of our homeless neighbors, he says to me,

“Please don’t leave us.
Please don’t turn your back on us.
This is the only place we are welcome.”

My friends, there is much work to do in this city and in this neighborhood.
This week I invite you to pray for peace…for an end to gun violence.

This week there are vigils being held in eight communities in Durham that have been hardest hit these past two years…they are listed on the bulletin board in the back. Attend one if you are able.

As this new calendar year begins, let us consider as individuals and as a community how we may proclaim God’s love and blessing and healing and peace to the world around us.

As we receive blessing, may we offer the same blessing to others as Moses was commanded so long ago:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

 

Amen.