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Our Refuge and Fortress: The Name

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

Looming high above the shores, the monasteries at Mount Athos are built as impenetrable fortresses. Faced with the threat of marauders and pirates for centuries, the monks found safety behind massive stone walls. Today, we are also assailed by constant threats, though of a more subtle kind: turn on the news, you have fear and anger; do an internet search, you have consumerism and pornography; step out of your front door, you have stress and anxiety. We need an asylum to flee to, and that asylum will only be found in the Name of the Lord: our Savior Jesus Christ.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Name, and we read the shortest scripture of the 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 passage is so short that it is easily passed over. Yet, this event is so significant, it rivals nearly everything in history. Moses spent forty days on Mt. Sinai and descended with the Ten Commandments. That moment was trivial compared to the day Christ was named. King Solomon built the temple, forever hallowing the Jewish faith. That historical event has nothing to our Lord’s circumcision. Even God Himself marveled after fashioning the universe, but what did that compare to this moment in Jerusalem? The Son of God, born in the flesh, was named Jesus.

The Jews always wanted a name for God. When Moses first spoke with God in the burning bush, he asked him, “What can we call you?” God did not reveal his name. Instead, he gave Moses a description: “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). God simply described Himself as Being itself, or rather, as He who is beyond being. He might as well have said, “I am He who cannot be named.” To have a name is to have a claim over someone. It is a kind of intimacy. How could we possibly call God by a name?

In the same way, God forbade graven images. How could you paint a picture of God? He is bigger and more beautiful than anything the mind can fathom. Yet, God changed all this on Christmas Day. He was born in the flesh. He has a face now, hands, a human body. We have seen God.

Today, He has a name. His name is Jesus Christ. Not only can we paint a picture of the Creator of the Universe. We can claim Him as on our own, through his Name, Jesus.

We do not take seriously enough the power of the Name of Jesus. I once met an old woman. She was part of the Gospel community, one of the pentecostals you meet down south. I heard her pray, and when she prayed she said the name of Jesus, several times, with such conviction. It struck me then, this woman knows the power of the Name. Our own heart should be equally convicted.

In his homily on the Feast of the Holy Name, the Abbot Prosper Gueranger said this about the Name of Jesus:

“When the fulness of time had come - when the mystery of love was about to be revealed - then did heaven send down the Name of ‘Jesus’ to our earth, as a pledge of the speedy coming of him who was to bear it. The archangel Gabriel said to Mary: Thou shalt call his Name JESUS. ‘Jesus’ means Saviour. How sweet will this Name not be to poor lost man! It seems to link earth to heaven! No name is so amiable, none is so powerful. Every knee in heaven, on earth, and in hell, bows in adoration at hearing this Name! and yet, who can pronounce it, and not feel love spring up within his heart?”

Bernadine of Siena shook up the world in the 14th century with the Name of Jesus Christ. It was a time of political rivalry and warring factions. He travelled across the land to bring peace, and he created peace by one means. He carried before him always the letters ‘IHS’ — the first three letters of the Greek, ‘IHΣΟΥΣ’, Jesus Christ. Before the Name of God, painted boldly, with rays like the sun, on a wooden tablet, the sick were cured and the strife ended. The Name of Christ was sufficient.

The Church Fathers urge us to remember the Name of Jesus with every breathe. St. John Chrysostom insisted we call constantly: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” We should make the habit of calling on Jesus with every action through the day. This name, Jesus Christ, “descending into the depths of the heart, will subdue the serpent holding sway over the pastures of the heart, and will save our soul and bring it life.”

St. Paisius insists that the man who calls on the name of Jesus incessantly, “like breath from his nostrils,” and, “with desire,” in him, God will abide and make his home. “The prayer will devour the heart, and the heart the prayer, and he will say this prayer day and night, and he will be liberated from all the enemies’ webs.”

The Book of Proverbs says it all.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

We make life complicated. We get upset and angry day after day. We are desperate all the time to find solutions to our problems, as though there was anything really good that we could do. We are constantly scrambling for happiness and we wonder why we fall on our faces. There is only one refuge: the Name of Jesus Christ.

Every New Year, the Church starts us off with this one verse:

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus” (Luke 2:21).

This is the only worthwhile New Year’s resolution: to aspire to live a life that takes seriously the invocation: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

May God give us the habit.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!


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