Wednesday, December 28, 2016


January 1st, 2017: Solemnity of May.  Numbers 6:22-27; Luke 2:16-21.
AIM: To encourage the hearers to use the holy name of Jesus as the perfect prayer.
On a hike, many years ago, through the great L√ľneburg Heath south of Hamburg in northern Germany, I came upon a shepherd. He was sitting on a rock, his sheep grazing nearby, kept together by a dog which occasionally brought back a sheep that had wandered away from the flock. AWhat=s the dog=s name?@ I asked.  AI=ll spell it for you,@ the shepherd replied. AI never say his name unless I want him to do something.@
Any dog owner understand that. A dog can be fast asleep, but immediately at the sound of its name, you see the ears go up, and sometimes the head as well.  To know the dog=s name is to have power over the dog. That is why smart dog owners put only their own names and phone numbers on the dog=s collar. They do not want a potential thief to know the animal=s name.
In human life too our own names have a special power to move us. We respond in one way when we hear our name being spoken by someone at a social gathering; and in quite another way when our name is spoken tenderly by someone we dearly love.
The Bible often speaks of Athe name of God.@ In our first reading God tells Aaron and his sons, the priests of Jesus= people, to Ainvoke my name upon the Israelites.@ When they did so, the priests recalled before the people, and before God, all that God had done for them, so that God would continue to be, for all time, the one he had shown himself to be, when God had told Moses his name: I AM B the one who is always there, always faithful, the one who never fails us, no matter how often we may fail him.
The gospel tells us how, on the eighth day, according to the rites of her people, Mary with her husband Joseph gave her child his name: Jesus. In their language, Hebrew, it was the name of a great hero, Joshua. Long ago that first Joshua had brought his people into the land God gave them following their long period of wandering after their deliverance from Egypt. Mary gives her son the same name. He was destined by God, his Father, to lead a homecoming far greater than the one the first Joshua had led: the coming home of all people to God himself.
As we cross the threshold of a new year, the Church invokes this name upon us, and gives us the name of Jesus to take with us into the new year. What will the year 2017 bring us? Perhaps some great success or joy; perhaps suffering or sorrow: the loss of a dear one, some failure, humiliation, loneliness, illness.  For some, this year will bring God=s loving summons home to Him.
Whether we look forward in joyful anticipation to the year just beginning, or in foreboding and fear B we take this name with us: Jesus. This holy name, so closely linked with the name of his mother Mary, will keep us safe, as a password keeps safe the soldiers to whom it is entrusted, enabling them to identify themselves in the dark as friends and not as enemies.
When the apostle Paul had been changed from an enemy of Jesus Christ to a friend in that great encounter on the Damascus road, God sent a man named Ananias to baptize Paul. Ananias didn=t want to go. He had heard about this man: he knew he was dangerous. God told Ananias: AHe is my chosen instrument to bring my name before the nations, and their kings, and before the people of Israel@ (Acts 9:15). In baptism God chose each one of us as his chosen instrument for the same purpose. He gave us, in baptism, the holy name of Christian. He charged us to bring honor to that name, to proclaim by the inner quality of our lives to all we encounter that the name of Christian is the only name worth having; and that the One who gave it to us is the only One worth serving.

Take this holy name, Jesus, with you as you cross the threshold of the new year. Use it in times of joy, or sorrow, of temptation, and of suffering, as the perfect prayer. Amid all the unknowable changes of the year ahead it will keep you close to Him who never changes, and whom the letter to the Hebrew calls in  words which, twenty centuries later, have still not lost their power to thrill believers= hearts:

AJesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, yes and forever.@ (Heb.13:8)