It is January 1, the eighth day of Christmas. I suppose what comes to mind most quickly is the strange gift of “eight maids a milking.” (How on earth were they wrapped?)
In the Anglican communion, and in some past periods for the Catholic Church, this is the day to remember “The Holy Name of Jesus.” According to St. Luke,
“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
That name, that single word which identifies the Word made flesh, is full of mystery and wonder. A quick survey of biblical references to the name of Jesus is illuminating, but to my mind the key reference is Philippians 2:9-11 where Paul says Jesus was given
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord…”
The Orthodox focus intently on the Holy Name of Jesus in the life of prayer, but Protestants?
Here is what the Heidelberg Catechism says on the topic:
29 Q. Why is the Son of God called “Jesus,” meaning “savior”?
A. Because he saves us from our sins,
and because salvation should not be sought and cannot be found in anyone else.
For the Catechism, the great mystery of Jesus’ Name draws out three central, Protestant priorities, all of them counter-cultural today:
1. Jesus’ name is about salvation, and the thing we are saved from is our sins. For Reformed theologians in the sixteenth century Christianity is all about finding forgiveness. Note the contrast to our culture, and even many a church today, where the focus is more on practical advice for successful living.
2. Jesus’ Name is understood exegetically, not mysteriously. The footnotes take you straight to Matthew 1:21 which states this as the reason for his name being “Jesus”:
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
For these guys the Bible is going to give you the straight scoop on anything so important. Note the contrast to today’s assumption that for something to be reliable it has to have science behind it — or at least a public opinion poll.
3. All of this brings to their minds the New Testament emphasis that Jesus alone is the source of salvation. I don’t need to tell you how counter-cultural that is in our post-modern world. For the Catechism this was as obvious as it was for the Apostle Peter. Their footnotes here lead us to Peter’s speech to the Council in Acts 4:12.
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
The writers of Catechism were in full agreement.
I’ve seen Christians so eager to show they are humble enough to learn from other religions that they downplay the idea of Christian salvation. I find myself wanting to ask,
“Do you at least believe that salvation can come from Jesus?”
It is a minimalist approach. But once we see that Jesus can and does bring salvation it is a short step to seeing that the what he brings is like no other gift.
What does the name of Jesus mean to you? Does his name have a particular place in your faith and prayer? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.)
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