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The Holy Name of Jesus

Fr Neil Kelley, January 1st, 2012

Today’s liturgy focuses on the sanctity of Our Lord’s name. For many, Jesus or Christ is yet another swear-word in what is probably a fairly short vocabulary. I remember saying to a member of my family years ago that I’d be grateful if they opted for the short four-letter word, beginning with F, rather than take the Lord’s name in vain. When I said it was less offensive they were puzzled!

But for many, the name Christ, or Jesus, is just that. A word to shock or express a negative feeling or experience. Invocation of the Holy Family is not really any better.... “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

As today’s Communion hymn puts it:

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
and drives away his fear.

The Christ means the anointed one, the Messiah. This description of the saviour is foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. And in the Gospels the angel says, you must call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. The naming of Jesus is customary (8 days after his birth he is circumcised and named) in much the same way as some of our generation bring young children to baptism, and some remember the custom of the churching of women a generation or so ago.

But what of the name of Jesus? What does that name mean to you? How do we use that name? Do we use it with reverence and awe? Is it, at times, simply another expletive? Well, some of us at times feel the need for the odd expletive. There are plenty to choose from.

Many Anglicans would not consider it ‘high church’ at all, to bow the head at the name of Jesus in the Creed. Many of us automatically do it. That is what we were taught at an early age. It is one way that we physically show and express our respect for the Holy Name. But that name is holy at all times, not just when it comes in the creed. In our hymns and our prayers, it should be quite natural for us to bow the head at the name of Jesus. I fear it is something which has fallen out of fashion. As a mark of respect and worship, it must be restored.

In today’s offertory hymn we sing words of St. Paul, telling us that “at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow”. It is this apostolic teaching that is at the root of the practice of genuflection, or bowing the knee, when passing near the place where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. At the presence of Jesus, every knee shall bow. It is a mark of respect which should be no different to a mark of request which we should give were a member of the Royal Family to be present. And if we can bend the knee at a human monarch, how much more respect ought we to pay to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Respect for the Holy Name of Jesus and a physical gesture at the Sacramental presence of Christ, together with a bow at the mention of the Holy Name are ways in which we demonstrate our love for our Lord, both to the Lord Himself and to those around us. If those of us who claim to love the Lord cannot express a real respect for the Holy Name and a desire to cherish it, what hope have we of the world around us taking the Lord’s name seriously? Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain....

That is the message of today’s feast. But another overriding theme of today is of course a new start and new beginning. Yes, it is only the start of a calendar year, but it is a time when people make resolutions – usually to do away with the things we have enjoyed over Christmas! People sign up to worship the gods of health clubs and horrid diets – to shed a few pounds and get in better shape. And that’s just the clergy!!

“I do think New Year's resolutions can't technically be expected to begin on New Year's Day, don't you? Since, because it's an extension of New Year's Eve, smokers are already on a smoking roll and cannot be expected to stop abruptly on the stroke of midnight with so much nicotine in the system. Also dieting on New Year's Day isn't a good idea as you can't eat rationally but really need to be free to consume whatever is necessary, moment by moment, in order to ease your hangover. I think it would be much more sensible if resolutions began generally on January the second." So speaks the writer of Bridget Jones’s Diary!

Our new year’s resolutions remind us that part of our pilgrimage in life will always be to strive to do better. Even the practically perfect amongst us have a little way to go...

G. K. Chesterton said that “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” The start of a new year is a helpful time to re-commit ourselves and asses our priorities.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Brother, friend,
my Prophet, Priest and King
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.

Jesus is many things to us. Our forthcoming stewardship campaigns will be a God-given opportunity for us in the United Benefice to demonstrate to the community around us just how much the Lord and the Church mean to us.

We stand at the gate of another new year very conscious of what has gone wrong in the year that has passed. But conscious, too, of the opportunities and potential ahead of us. There will always be someone for whom the past year has been an annus horribilis. We come to the Altar today knowing our weakness, knowing the coldness of our hearts sometimes, but longing for our Lord to warm us with his love.

Whether your Christmas has been Merry or not, whether 2012 will be a Happy Year, which is what most of us wish for each other today, or whether 2012 will be the same mix of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, we pray that it will be a year where the Lord’s name may be hallowed and praised and that it may be a year in which we realise the blessings we are given when we stretch out our hands towards the Lord.

"For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning."

T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding

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