Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One from the Head: the Feast of the Holy Name

What's in a name? In Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare opines through his young lover Juliet's rumination on her growing love for Romeo that even though he is a Montague and she a Capulet, their love seems destined to rise above the enmity between their families. Her thought? That "A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Romeo would still be her true love, even if he did not go by that name. Imagine that....if it were true. Would your heart feel the tug of tragedy should a friend suggest that you take in a theater production of "Joe and Juliet?" How about "Romeo and Gertrude?"

Exactly. Those two name have been bound to each other through the playwright's verse as the epitome of young, romantic love gone to a tragic end. Could there be any other than those two, bound forever in their lovers' embrace? Hardly.

So, even in the face of theatrical tragedy we can admit that there is much to be found in a name. A name tells a story, as much about where the person wearing it comes from as it does offer them a chance to define it. Benedict Arnold did his bit to define his own name. As did Richard Nixon. Infamy is one path to take by which a name gains power. At the same time, we can look to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Mother Theresa and to Gandhi as those who took a name and by their humble living made them great. There is a lot that is put upon us in a name, and much we leave with it as we move through this life.

My own name comes from my grandfathers. I was named for them, and they in turn received their names from others. My mother's father received his name, Marshall, from the doctor that saved the life of his mother (and his) as he was coming into this world. So grateful was my great-grandmother, she gave Dr. Marshall's name to her son. This caused a scandal in the family, for since time immemorial the men had been given names derived from the initials "J" and "E," like James Erskine, or John Earnest. There is a story behind your name, too, I would wager. I would also hold that even the simplest story carries a deep impact on your life, yes?

So, then, how wondrous that on January 1st, we mark the Feast of the Holy Name. Counting the days since Christmas, New Year's falls on the 8th day after the commemoration of the Nativity of our Lord. It is the day, traditionally, when newborn babes in Hebrew households are circumcised. Often, it is the day when their name is formally given to them.

The Feast of the Holy Name, then, is the day we remember the meaning behind that word "Jesus" that falls so readily from our lips in our daily lives. As epithet or blessing, it is a name that was waiting for the son of Mary when he came into this world; and it is a name that in his life, death and resurrection has become one to which "every knee should bend." Jesus. 


It means, "God saves." 

What's in a name?

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