There’s a running joke in our church office among the staff about how I handle birthdays. I’m not a big fan. And I don’t just mean my birthday. I pretty much eschew any attention for anyone’s birthday. Around the office, when someone mentions a birthday, everyone shoots a knowing glance and me and says, “Just like any other day!” The fact that they mock me suggests that they like me. I’m convinced of that.
Some people make a huge deal about New Year’s Day. New year. Fresh start. Resolutions. For me, it seems pretty much like just another day. More college football. Learning to write “2013” instead of “2012.” Other than that, just another day. I’m grateful for the time off—as any preacher is during the twelve days of Christmas. I’ll eat my black-eyed peas and collard greens. I stayed up last night long enough to kiss my sweetie. Other than that, I don’t get it.
In the church calendar, however, it’s not just another day. Today is the Feast of the Holy Name, which some of us remember from last year, when Holy Name actually fell on a Sunday and “bumped” the propers for the First Sunday after Christmas. It’s the eighth day of Jesus’ life. Because of Jewish custom/law, he was circumcised and given his name today. And, as Paul quotes in today’s Philippians reading, the name of Jesus isn’t just any other name; it’s the name above all names—at which every knee shall bow. And, because of that, today actually is special.
Although it took centuries to develop, the concept of Jesus’ holy name is important to our faith. God’s name is holy and, according to Jewish custom/law, could not be spoken. God alone possessed his name, and, as plenty of OT stories remind us, didn’t share it with others. Until Jesus. And somehow God the Father gives him a share of that same holy name.
This morning, the last few lines of the Philippians hymn caught my eye: “…every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Back when the earliest Christians were repeating that hymn as if it were a creed they wouldn’t go as far as to say that Jesus is God, but they were on their way. And the power of Jesus’ name—by which demons were cast out and illnesses were healed—helped them get there.
To faithful Jews, New Year’s Day comes in the fall. Actually, having the new year tied to something like harvest or spring makes sense. There really isn’t much new on January 1 other than calendars, clocks, and conventions. But with Jesus—and his name—everything did change.