Holy Name of God
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart always be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
As our Lord became incarnate for our salvation at a time ordained by Him and He entered a fallen world in order that we might see the light of revelation and the power of grace, so He is in our midst during these challenging times. God is with us! Christ is born! Let us glorify Him together and look to Him for the guidance and assurance we need as we enter a new calendar year.
Today on the liturgical calendar is the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. The Name of Jesus is a name with power and healing. We need to meditate on this name, and kindle in our hearts a most profound devotion to the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Today’s gospel is the shortest gospel reading in the whole year. “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21). The church has prescribed this single verse from Luke today to mark its importance.
How do we understand the importance of a name? The old phrase, “it’s the thought that counts,” says a lot about our modern culture. We value intentions and ideas, but we do not value the physicality, the substance of our world. We are consumers. We like using our stuff, but that is different than valuing our stuff – i.e. marvelling at the creation of physical matter. Here is an example. The modern Christian might appreciate an icon because of its beauty or symbolic importance. The Orthodox Christian values an icon because it is intrinsically, physically, holy. Not only does an icon remind us of heaven; a picture of paint and wood, the icon itself, is a little bit of heaven. A modern Christian might appreciate a relic for historical purposes. An Orthodox Christian bows down and venerates the relic because he understands that it is itself, spiritual and sanctifying. The symbol conveys what is being symbolized.
Names are no different. When a Jew reads the Genesis account of Adam naming the animals, it fills him with awe. Adam was not simply giving the animals nicknames, the way we might name a dog or cat. By naming the animal, Adam was defining its reality. He was giving it existence, or at least, a more profound level of existence. A name is
power. Even today, Orthodox Jewish publications dare not to even spell out the whole word, “God.” They mention God’s attributes. They use adjectives to describe God. Yet, good Jews would not dare to mention God by name. To know someone’s name is to possess a sort of intimacy with Him. To the Jew, God is far too cosmic and majestic for us to claim that kind of intimacy.
All that changed when Jesus Christ was born. All the majesty of heaven poured into one tiny child, born of a young temple virgin in Bethlehem of Judea. The Incarnation means everything that is Jesus is charged with God. His name is no exception. The scriptures pronounce the Name of Christ with utmost reverence. “God has given him a name which is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil 2:9-10). “There is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). St. John of Kronstadt says: “The Name of the Lord is the Lord Himself. When we call on Jesus, He is present.” Psalm 86:11 prays: “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” “Unite my heart” – as translated from Hebrew, means to literally: bring everything within me, all my thoughts and affections, together around this one focus, your Holy Name.
God became incarnate for us so that we can have a better understanding of who God is and what He wants for us. This is the profound mystery of the Incarnation and it takes the Jewish meaning of God to the next level for us, that of an intimate relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, through the Holy Spirit. He does this for our benefit. He does this to help us try to wrap our heads around who God is. What do we need to do this year, if nothing else? We must build a habit of praying the Holy Name. St. Bernadine of Siena healed the crippled by invoking the Name of Jesus. We too will find healing in our problems by turning to the Name of Jesus. May God give us strength to find reverence for and faith in His Most Holy Name. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, one God. Amen.