Tuesday, January 01, 2008

What's in a Name? - The Holy Name of Jesus

On January 1, the eighth day after Christmas, we remember the day Joseph & Mary's child was circumcised and named.
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
(Luke 2:21)

They obeyed the command that both had received from holy messengers. In Luke's gospel, the angel tells Mary
Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most high.
(Luke:30 (b) - 32 (a))

In Matthew, Joseph is told not to abandon his pregnant finace with the promise
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
(Matthew 1:20 (b) - 21)

The name of the child was important enough that both evangelists tell us that it was given to his parents by angels. In English, we identify that name with the man Jesus of Nazareth, but to Jesus' own people, his name was filled with meaning.

The name that we translate into Jesus was Yeshua in Hebrew. It is actually a familiar version of the name Yehoshua. It means "Lord (or Jehovah) who is salvation)."

In English, we might call a child Faith or Godfrey or Regis if we wanted to give them a name that sounded particularly pious or royal. Any author chooses character names carefully because of what they say about the person who bears them. Oliver Twist or Billy Pilgrim are names that tell you something about the character before you even meet them.

So it is with the name of Jesus. It was not a rare name in Hebrew culture, but it was a special one.

If the life of Jesus is a story, then God is that story's author. God chose Jesus name deliberately so that "Jehovah" and "salvation" would be present in the mind of the listener whenever that name was mentioned.

In time, he came to be known as Jesus Christ, but Christ is not a name, rather it is a title, from the Greek christos which is the translation of the Hebrew messias meaning "anointed one." In the gospels, the evangelists refer to Jesus the Christ. After the resurrection, the early Christians transformed Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus into a single proper name, not unlike Julius Caesar.

So what's in Jesus' name? Not a magic spell that grants us wishes when we pray "in Jesus' name." Instead, his name honors both his heavenly father, and the world whose salvation he came to effect. Just as Jesus was both God and human, so also his name spans two dimensions - Jesus the man and Jesus the name are both links between the creator and creation. The name Jesus testifies to the radical love God has for the world.

Peace and Happy New Year!

The icon of the Circumcision is from the remarkable website Orthodoxy in China

1 comment:

  1. Another great post, Pennsy. It usually takes me a few days to digest your writing - the sign of a truly well-written piece. Both informative and thought-provoking.

    Happy New Year to you and all of yours! (I hear you had a stowaway over the holidays...)