Holy Name 2020, January 5, 2020
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21
Names, Given & Earned
Why is a name so important? It’s how we identify each other – and ourselves. I bet the very first humans millions of years ago called each other something like “Red” or “Limpy” or a Seven Dwarf’s description, like Sleepy or Doc. Hopefully not Dopey. We call these nicknames.
Now, we are a bit more sophisticated, connecting our names with relationships or what we do. David Johnson. Sam Carpenter. Jack London.
The name we have on our birth certificate or Baptismal record are given to us, not our choice; neither is our family name. Like them or not, that’s it. We can be named after Biblical figures, heroes, athletes, or famous historical figures. Or we were named for a parent or grandparent.
What do we do when we don’t like our name? We give ourselves a new one. Our neighbor’s son went through Bobby to Bob to Robert, and now Rob. We could use our middle name if we like it better. My Catholic friends chose saints’ names for their Confirmation and use them.
When Rebecca began our Women of Grace and Beyond Group, she asked us our names and where they came from. Even in a small group, we had very different stories to tell. Nevertheless, we had no choice when we were named.
Sometimes we get a new name, through adoption or marriage. Or a nickname. Even in the Bible there have been name changes: Abraham, Jacob, Peter.
All we can do is live into the name we were given. Grow into it. Earn what has been given to us, with the good and bad that goes along with it.
But what about the names or labels we get as we grow up and live our lives? The identities we earn or work for. We choose most of those. We are known by our careers, our nation (or island), our sports teams, our hobbies, our politics. Our roles in families, our other relationships. Sister, Hippie, US Marine, Leader, Helper.
Is our label or our name a plus or a minus? That would be up to us.
Our son Alex found that out the easy and the hard way about what is given and what is earned. He was a Boy Scout. Alex was too laid back to really work on being an Eagle, but his friends all made it and started pressuring him to finish on time. He made it two weeks shy of the deadline, his 18th birthday. He did all the work, including his leadership project and the badges, but it was more push than actual desire.
Then, a week after he became an Eagle Scout, he designed, ordered, and sold the school’s swim team t-shirt. In other words, he grew into the Eagle name after receiving it rather than while he worked on it. He didn’t earn it as a reward, he grew into it.
That’s us here. Christians. We were baptized, probably long ago, probably as infants. We didn’t earn or deserve the identity or name of Christian. We were given the gift of belonging, like in a family. We were expected to grow into what that meant. The fact that we are here in this place shows that we want to keep that identity. We want to keep growing into our Christian name. It is a life-long journey.
What do we think that means? Follow what Christ told his friends to do, duh. Love God, love neighbor. Do things “in the Name of Jesus”. Pray for our own spiritual well-being and connection with God.
The big Christmas gift we receive is the message that we are given our Christian name before we have earned it. And we are constantly given chances to grow into it.
Doing things in the Name of Jesus implies calling on the power and authority Jesus had. He used that power and authority, not for his own benefit, but for the welfare of us all. For healing, for encouraging his twelve disciples to spread his message of love as far as the known world stretched.
Our Eucharist, a meal we share with the disciples and Jesus, gives us the power and authority to do what we can. Pray in Jesus name, act as he would towards our neighbors.
To grow into being a member of Jesus’ family is a different path for each one of us. Last year I vowed not to speak ill of anyone, not criticize or call people insulting names. I’ve been pretty good, and this year I am adding to that vow. It is a little thing, but in our present national climate, I think that it is important. I don’t really respect everyone the way I should, but I pray for them.
We say love our enemies, pray for the environment, defend and feed and clothe our neighbor. As long as it I a general phrase, we can pray it easily. But when we grow into our name as a Christian, we see the individuals in our own lives where those generalities become real.
I’ve lived into my names. I lost them on my first Mothers’ Day when I got a t-shirt that said “Alex’s Mom”. Where was Nancy Dorothy Hartmeyer Wynen? But that new label was one I still try my best to live into. The schools I went to and the titles I collected don’t tell my whole story either. But Christian is the one that keeps coming back as my guide to living.
Think of how many of our holidays are “start-overs”, times to reset our priorities. The beginnings of Lent and Advent, New Year’s Day, every Sunday when we hear that our sins are forgiven and we can try again to lead a holy life. And continue to grow into our Christian identity.