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Feast of the Holy Name, Year B

Exodus 34:1-8 - link to NRSV text
Philippians 2:9-13 - link to NRSV text
Luke 2:15-21 - link to NRSV text

Our reading from Exodus for this week says something that was a truism in Jesus' culture:

Who you are is largely about who your parents are. Your name, your identity in the world, is your family name, and especially your father's name.

But it was widely known that Jesus' father wasn't Joseph. It meant that Mary his mother faced the possibility of death at the hands of a brother or father seeking to protect the family honor. I've blogged and preached about that before. Joseph had a price to pay as well for his refusal to abandon Mary, and we get a hint of it in this week's gospel; it's most likely that his family disowned him, or he and his wife would have been able to stay with extended family for Jesus' birth.

It also means that Jesus was subjected to whispers in the village until the day he left it. He was called “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3). Everybody knew that nobody knew who his father was, and everybody knew that Mary's name was no status symbol, given her pregnancy by someone other than Joseph. “That young man will come to no good,” people murmured as Jesus walked past, “no family, no honor.” His parents' iniquities would be visited upon him, and his name was mud.

And yet this Sunday, when we remember his naming, is the Feast of the Holy Name. God gave him “the name that is above every name,” according to the hymn in Philippians 2, the passage an early Baptismal hymn that's on my mind every time I bow at Jesus' name in the liturgy. God gave Jesus the name that is above every name because Jesus, the most powerful person on earth, didn't exploit that power to try to seize the throne. He didn't seek the company of the powerful, but he used his power to exalt the powerless, restoring the outcast to community and ascribing dignity to those the world despised. He met them with compassion born of experience, because he shared their name in other's eyes. No name, from nowhere, the bastard from a backwater village.

And God gave him the name that is above every name. God exalted him, lifted him up, and Jesus lifted up his sisters and brothers among the despised. Jesus carries the name at which every knee should bow, but he teaches his followers that they will find and serve him by seeking and serving those furthest from the center of power -- the sick whose illnesses render them impure, the prisoners literally barred from community, the poor beggars outside the city gate.

That's the heart of why we call him the Son of God: because Jesus does what his Father does, and Jesus' words and example, his life and his death, taught us that his Father, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca and Rachel, is always at work on the margins. God looks at those whose name is mud and calls them God's own beloved child, made in God's image and deserving the reverence that comes from being mindful of that.

Jesus' name was mud, and God called that name holy. That dignity, that gentle power, that holiness, can be found when we look at the outcast as Jesus saw them, rather than as the murmurers saw Jesus.

Thanks be to God!

December 27, 2005 in Exodus, Honor/Shame, Justice, Luke, Philippians, Year B | Permalink

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'Jesus' name was mud and God called that name holy.' That sentence just blew me away. It got a whole host of thoughts rolling around my head which could have made a challenging way in for a Sunday sermon - only trouble is I'm not preaching this Sunday!

Anyhow as always thanks for your offering and may the coming year be all that you wish it to be for you and yours.

Posted by: Turbulent cleric | Dec 30, 2005 5:36:49 AM

I particularly enjoyed this homily as I have been reading and looking at the RCL Isaiah passage.
62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

As his children, we too have been given a new name.

Posted by: Mitch Baker | Dec 31, 2005 7:47:02 AM

I second "Turbulent Clerk's" comment. The sentence that begins "Jesu name was mud," blew me away too. And I AM preaching Sunday--oh my gosh, that's tomorrow.

Thanks much.

Posted by: tomtyger | Dec 31, 2005 3:50:33 PM

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Feast of the Holy Name, Year B

« Christmas Day: The Feast of the Nativity | Main | First Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord, Year B »

Feast of the Holy Name, Year B

Exodus 34:1-8 - link to NRSV text
Philippians 2:9-13 - link to NRSV text
Luke 2:15-21 - link to NRSV text

Our reading from Exodus for this week says something that was a truism in Jesus' culture:

Who you are is largely about who your parents are. Your name, your identity in the world, is your family name, and especially your father's name.

But it was widely known that Jesus' father wasn't Joseph. It meant that Mary his mother faced the possibility of death at the hands of a brother or father seeking to protect the family honor. I've blogged and preached about that before. Joseph had a price to pay as well for his refusal to abandon Mary, and we get a hint of it in this week's gospel; it's most likely that his family disowned him, or he and his wife would have been able to stay with extended family for Jesus' birth.

It also means that Jesus was subjected to whispers in the village until the day he left it. He was called “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3). Everybody knew that nobody knew who his father was, and everybody knew that Mary's name was no status symbol, given her pregnancy by someone other than Joseph. “That young man will come to no good,” people murmured as Jesus walked past, “no family, no honor.” His parents' iniquities would be visited upon him, and his name was mud.

And yet this Sunday, when we remember his naming, is the Feast of the Holy Name. God gave him “the name that is above every name,” according to the hymn in Philippians 2, the passage an early Baptismal hymn that's on my mind every time I bow at Jesus' name in the liturgy. God gave Jesus the name that is above every name because Jesus, the most powerful person on earth, didn't exploit that power to try to seize the throne. He didn't seek the company of the powerful, but he used his power to exalt the powerless, restoring the outcast to community and ascribing dignity to those the world despised. He met them with compassion born of experience, because he shared their name in other's eyes. No name, from nowhere, the bastard from a backwater village.

And God gave him the name that is above every name. God exalted him, lifted him up, and Jesus lifted up his sisters and brothers among the despised. Jesus carries the name at which every knee should bow, but he teaches his followers that they will find and serve him by seeking and serving those furthest from the center of power -- the sick whose illnesses render them impure, the prisoners literally barred from community, the poor beggars outside the city gate.

That's the heart of why we call him the Son of God: because Jesus does what his Father does, and Jesus' words and example, his life and his death, taught us that his Father, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca and Rachel, is always at work on the margins. God looks at those whose name is mud and calls them God's own beloved child, made in God's image and deserving the reverence that comes from being mindful of that.

Jesus' name was mud, and God called that name holy. That dignity, that gentle power, that holiness, can be found when we look at the outcast as Jesus saw them, rather than as the murmurers saw Jesus.

Thanks be to God!

December 27, 2005 in Exodus, Honor/Shame, Justice, Luke, Philippians, Year B | Permalink

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