January 1, 2012
Sermon for the Holy Name
January 1, 2012
The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick
Happy New Year! It’s good to be here with you, my church family, on this first day of 2012. The last time many of us gathered for worship was Christmas. Can you believe that was one week ago? Rarely does so much happen emotionally, culturally, and spiritually in one week. We move from luxuriating in the moment of Christmas to looking back at the old and looking ahead toward the new. Even in the grocery store, magazines invite us to look back at the best and worst of 2011 and to make new resolutions for 2012. A million thoughts crossed my mind last week about how things will be different this New Year. I’ll spend more time with family. Be more efficient. Do the dishes before I go to bed. Get more exercise. In the middle of all these resolutions, I had the privilege of looking at the readings for today. They slowed me down. They reminded me that New Year’s Day is not only a time to look back and forge ahead. It’s a time to remember that “the only moment we have is now.”
The readings for January 1st are for the Feast of the Holy Name. The last time this feast fell on a Sunday and supplanted the readings for Christmas 2 was in 2006. Getting a chance to reflect on Jesus’ name as a church community is rarer than a leap year. Of course, all we do together as a church, we do in Jesus’ name. “We pray and gather in Jesus’ name.” We lay hands on people for healing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ each Wednesday. We offer food to the hungry right here in our church kitchen. But the readings today invite us to consider as well what this name means for how we live each moment. Jesus is the name that joins “heaven and earth” (Wagernin, 139). It links our time with God’s time. God is eternal. He sees and loves perfectly. We are temporal. If you’re like me, you have a hard time seeing what matters and acting in love each moment. Jesus became flesh and lived among us to show us how to live and love fully even in the limits of our time. Mary and Joseph did not chose or make up the name Jesus. It means “he saves or delivers.” The name Jesus came from heaven: “given by the angel before Jesus was conceived in the womb.” Mary and Joseph are part of a plan that takes place in God’s time, in the “fullness of time” according to Galatians—God sends his son at the right time, the right moment, an act of full and complete love. Yet Mary and Joseph live in human time, moment to moment. They can’t take in the fullness of what has happened all at once. They have no idea how this plan will unfold. They can only be faithful in the moment.
In our passage from Luke, we see the shepherds, Mary and Joseph in ordinary time. All of them have glimpsed the holy at various points; but we hear at the beginning of our reading, “the angels have left them and gone back into heaven.” The shepherds don’t miss a beat. They are a people of NOW. They respond, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.” They are aware that this moment they have been given is important. They make haste to “see this thing” that God has chosen to reveal to them. When they get there, they don’t turn around disappointed by the sight of two poor people struggling to meet the needs of a newborn in a place where animals feed. They do not wait for things to be perfect before they act in love. They share the good news they have heard with Mary and Joseph. Mary, exhausted from labor and overwhelmed by her journey “treasures all these words and ponders them in her heart.” She doesn’t try to take in Jesus’ name all at once. She takes it in one day at a time.
Eight days after the excitement of the shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph, faithful Jewish parents, take their baby to be named and circumcised. Only they know that his name has come from heaven. The name “Jesus” wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. It was common (TDNT). Mary and Joseph don’t draw attention to what they have been told. They hear prophesies that “Jesus will be a light to the nations” and that a “sword will pierce Mary’s own soul, too.” They cannot agonize over these prophesies; they do not dwell on how things would have been different if they’d said no to God. They do not complain that they need more resources before they can act in love. Luke’s gospel quietly shows us that what Mary and Joseph do day to day is enough: They use this holy name in ordinary ways: “to call Jesus to supper” (Wagernin 141), to yell at him when he wanders off, to sing him to sleep at night. They are faithful moment to moment, doing the best they can, nursing Jesus, changing his diapers, taking him away from danger to Egypt, taking care of him when he is sick, training him as a carpenter, and teaching him the faith.
When we use Jesus’ name to guide us in the ordinary moments of our lives, we, too, find ways to be faithful in the now. We may have had glimpses of the holy at points in the past, but those moments often disappear as suddenly as they came. Loving and serving others in Jesus’ name keeps us connected to God and to God’s time. It keeps us from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Living in the moment isn’t a uniquely Christian idea. Yet I have found trying to live in the moment to be extremely helpful in the past two months. I often end up missing the moment because I am so busy second-guessing how I handled other moments or because I am worried about the future. Right before I left for Thanksgiving, I was anxious about traveling by myself on two flights each way with a three-year old and a one-year-old with a layover in the Atlanta airport. A good friend gave me this phrase to take on the trip, “This moment is the only one you have.” I repeated that phrase to myself on the airplane and I felt my anxiety evaporate. If that were true, and if this were the only moment I had, I wanted to be on my children’s side instead of worrying about what strangers might think of them and me. By the grace of God and some kind passengers, the flights went well in spite of delays and missed connections. My children could sense that I was fully present with them instead of distracted by fear of what they might do. The phrase isn’t perfect—there are plenty of days when I’m glad my worst moment aren’t the only ones I have. I’m glad that I have a chance for do-overs. But even then, the phrase helps me ask, “Do I really want to spend this moment picking at this person being critical over something that doesn’t matter?” It helps me to be intentional about saying I’m sorry when I’ve hurt others, choosing what battles to pick, appreciating those I love, and paying attention to the least of these.
This day of the Holy Name calls us not to look too far ahead or to get caught up in what is past. It reminds us that now is the moment we have. Being present makes a difference in how we treat each other at home, at church, and at work. It’s a way of saying ‘yes’ to our life, yes in all its fullness, frustrations, and ambiguities’ (Bro. Kevin Hackett, SSJE 16 Dec. 2011). As with Mary and Joseph, our circumstances don’t have to be perfect before we can love and serve in Jesus’ name. God takes what we have in the moment and uses it to bring about his plan of salvation. To close, let us pray again the opening collect: Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.