Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ:January 1

The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ: January 1
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; OR Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

The Lord instructs Moses to relay to Aaron and his descendants the authority and the language for blessing God's people: to bless and keep, show the Lord's face and countenance and "give you peace."  With this blessing, the (priestly) descendants of Aaron "shall put my name on" God's people and God "will bless them."

The psalmist celebrates creation, which she finds infused with the Lord's "name."  When she considers humanity's place in creation, she finds it "a little lower than gods/crowned with glory and grandeur."  But, the Lord's "name" is "over all."

Paul works out the change in status of God's people due to the "Son, born of a woman, born under the LA, in order to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as children."  And now as "children," "the Spirit" permits/inspires us to call God "Abba! Father!"  And as God's child, that makes you an "heir."


In one of the most fecund constructs in all of Paul's writings, this excerpt from his letter to believing Phillipians is most likely as extant hymn Paul quoted.  Paul exhorts his readers to emulate Christ, who "though he was in the form of God" did not rest in that status, but instead "emptied himself...."  The hymn invokes a well-defined and familiar construct in the classical world; he took "the form of a slave," because he was "born in human likeness."  This subservient status voluntarily put him in the position of humility and obedience "to the point of death-- even death on a cross."  Now the hymn sweeps up away in the extreme opposite direction; "God highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above every name...."  This name is honored "in heaven and on earth...."  Hence, "every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Luke's birth narrative continues by describing what happens after the shepherds had been told by "an angel of the Lord" the "good news" of the birth in Bethlehem of "a Savior who is Messiah and Lord."  They went into town, found Mary and Joseph and, in  a manger, the newborn infant.  They told Mary and Joseph the announcement the angel had made to them and their utter "amazement."  The text is unclear exactly who is included, but just says that, "And all who heard it were amazed...."  Mary's reaction in particular is noted: she "treasured them" and kept them "in her heart."  The shepherds left, singing and rejoicing for what they had "seen."  As was the Jewish custom for a male newborn,  eight days later, when it was time to have the child circumcised and named, "he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel [to Mary, 131b] before he was conceived in the womb."

A name names, it works well enough but it never captures fully what has been named.  When given to a child, his or her naming launches a life, but it never fully contains the fullness of that life.  John Caupto writes: "A name is a promissory note what is cannot itself keep."  And, "Names are asked to carry what they cannot bear toward a destination they do not know.  Names are trying to help makes things happen, while events are what is happening."  (The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event, p.3ff)  These are among the the reasons Caputo gives to make his main point: names are "events."  A name sets in motion an array of deeds, memories, words, relationships that surpass the capacity of any particular name to contain.  It is the "event" of the life of the named person that never ceases having an impact whenever the name is invoked.  

The name "Jesus," given to Mary by an angel even before she conceived, would have been a name of deep significance.  It is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Yahoshua" or "Joshua," whose leadership brought Israel into the promised land.  But it will be, of course, what Jesus actually does and says that will turn this name into another interpretation of  "event," which still reverberates/continues/connects/impacts.  His total "obedience"  even "to death on a cross"  will release a display of love that is  aligned with another name, "Messiah, Lord,"  the Christ.  And, even the privileged name of "Son."  All these names fuse into an "event," a God-event.  Caputo continues: "The name of God occurs, not on the plane of being, but of the event; it is the name of a signification or an interpretation, not a substance."  (p.181)  It is the "event" of all that Jesus said and did that persists and is invoked when his name is named and the story attached to that name is told.  It is the capacity of that name to, as we look up at the figure on the cross,  raise our sights to the majesty of God's love that retains its power, which fills heaven and earth; a "name above every other name," that wondrously makes us God's "child," and "heir."