This coming Sunday is New Year’s Day. The choices for those of us who use the Revised Common Lectionary are many:
Christmas 1 – The Holy Family’s flight (as in fleeing as refugees) into Egypt and the Slaughter of the Innocents
Name of Jesus – The naming of Jesus at his circumcision and a look ahead to his dedication, when we hear Simeon’s Song
New Year’s Day – Matthew 25 text about “the least of these”
We decided to go with observing the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This was not an easy decision. Both of the other sets of texts center around exhortations and situations that are either frighteningly present in our world or speak directly to the state of our world.
Had we used the New Year’s Day set of texts, we would have explored what it means to be a Matthew 25 church: doing for “the least of these.” We are considering studying this for the entire year, reflecting on Luther’s call to vocation and service of neighbor (and of course putting that into action!). But not knowing what our attendance will be on New Year’s Day – it is generally low – we will instead use this text more intentionally throughout the year.
The Christmas 1 texts, to be honest, are not pretty. Being told to run for your life is not an impromptu vacation. Little children being killed is horrifying. We don’t need to look far to see this exact scenario: there are over 14 million refugees from the Syrian Civil War either internally displaced within the country’s borders or scattered around the world. The estimated number of children killed is nearly 15,000. We remember the riveting photograph of the little boy sitting stunned in an ambulance.
We came to the conclusion that the only way we could deal with the horror that is all around us, and the uncertain future facing us, was to ground ourselves this New Year’s Day in basics.
So we are reading the texts appointed for the Holy Name of Jesus.
Shakespeare asks, via Juliet, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” It’s the person or the thing, not the label attached to them, that is the essence of who or what they are.
And yet…..the name of Jesus carries associations, emotions, weights.
It’s been used to calm and soothe, but also to intimidate and oppress.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he invokes the name of Jesus as “the name above all names.” It is clear Paul sees Jesus’ name as a signal to people that here is God Incarnate, the God who loves us beyond our words.
I think in our day, it’s not the name of “Jesus” that turns people off. I think it’s the name of “Christian.” And we do a lot of hand-wringing about how to change that. Here’s an idea:
What if, this year, we were intentional about living into the name of Jesus?
We pray “in Jesus’ name” all the time; what if we were to DO in Jesus’ name, all the time?
Then we might find ourselves living that Matthew 25 text. We might find ourselves standing up to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. We might find ourselves dipping our fingers in the waters of the baptismal font and letting that cool splash remind us of who we are, and send us out reminded of whose we are.
Such an assurance of grace gives us the freedom, ALL the freedom, to DO in Jesus’ name.
It’s what our sending phrase really means: “Go in peace. DO SOMETHING!”
I wish you all a blessed, ACTIVE New Year!