Monday, December 23, 2013

The Holy Name of Jesus

Expecting the birth of a child is an exciting time in any family. All the work that goes into preparing the nursery, buying clothing and getting the house ready brings the family together to welcome the new baby.

One of the funnest preparations, however, is selecting a name for the child. Sometimes the whole family gets involved suggesting either names of relatives, of celebrities or, in many Catholic families, names of saints. Once we have chosen a name, it really becomes part of the new baby’s personality. Can you imagine yourself with any other name than the one you have? Just so, once we give our babies a name, they go from being anonymous faces to having real personalities.

In our society, the literal meaning of names is rarely important. However, in many cultures, especially in the Old Testament, a person’s name gives us insight into who they are or under what circumstances they may have been born. For instance, the first two people ever to be named were our first parents, Adam and Eve. In Hebrew, their names simply mean “man” and “woman”. When the holy woman, Hannah, who had been childless for many years finally conceive and bore a son, she called him “Samuel”, a name meaning “God has heard” because God finally heard her prayers for a son. Very often in the Old Testament if a child was to be set aside for a specific mission, God Himself would name him. We see this to be the case in today’s first reading and in the gospel.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells the king of Israel, Ahaz, that a child will be born who will be the savior of the nation. Isaiah says that the child’s name will be “Emmanuel”. This name literally means “God is with us”. Therefore, the Messiah who was to come would be the presence of God among His people. No longer would our Heavenly Father seem distant and far off. No longer would He seem to be far from our cries or aloof from our daily cares. Rather He would live among us, share our joys, carry our burdens with us and ultimately lead us to the kingdom of Heaven.

This Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is God among us. Unlike every other holy man or woman of the Old Testament period, He does not only speak for God, He is God. Every word He speaks is literally the word of the Father. Also,  He does not only perform mighty deeds in God’s name. Rather when Jesus heals, it is God healing. When Jesus forgives sins, it is the Heavenly Father Himself who is forgiving sin. In the person of Jesus, God fulfills His promise to never abandon us, to walk always by our side and to carry us in our time of need.

In the gospel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. The child she is carrying is the Son of the Most High, and the angel instructs him to call the child “Jesus”. In Hebrew, our Lord’s name means “victory” or “salvation”. As the angel goes on to explain, “he will save his people from their sins.” Therefore, His person and mission are revealed in His name. He was born to save us from our sins. We can go to Him with confidence, then, because the whole meaning of His existence among us is to forgive us of our sins. Because of this we can go to Him just as we are and expect to be treated mercifully.

Because it is so full of meaning, the name of Jesus is powerful. It has been a pious custom for people of faith to bow their heads when saying “Jesus”. It is a good tradition for us to continue because it shows reverence for the name which is above every other name. Because of the power of the name, we should call upon it frequently during the day to give us strength in temptation, inspiration when we must explain our faith and courage to do the right thing. Saying the name of Jesus also reminds us that He is always by our side as He promised. The name of Jesus is powerful. We should have it on our lips often and bow our heads respectfully every time we use it.

Now that we are aware of the meaning of Jesus’ name, it is all the clearer why we should never take His name in vain. We should never use it in anger to curse or swear. When we do so, we show a lack of respect for our Lord and Saviour. We show a lack of gratitude for all He did to save us. And we give a bad example to others, especially to young people. When out of our human weakness we do use Jesus’ name in vain, we should apologize immediately to the people who heard us and go to confession as soon as possible. When we hear others use His name in vain, we should politely but firmly correct them and ask for an apology. It is the least we can do for the One who suffered and died to set us free.

In Jesus, God has fulfilled all the promises He made in the Old Testament. He sent us Emmanuel,  a Messiah to be His presence among us, to share our lives, to suffer alongside us and to lead us into His Kingdom. He sent us “Jesus” who gives us salvation from sin and victory over death. Jesus is the name above every other name, the only name given to us by which we are to be saved.

At this Mass, we celebrate that promise in a particularly powerful way. For the bread and wine we offer will become the very Body and Blood of Emmanuel. Not only is it the reality of God among us but God within us. Through the Eucharist, God makes our hearts His dwelling place. Jesus lives within us. This mystery gives us even more reason to bow our heads when we speak His name and to have confidence to draw upon the strength of that name in every challenge we face while striving to live the good news of His love.

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