Today, eight days into the Christmas season, the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Name. We celebrate this feast day on January 1st each year because it’s the day when Jesus was named by his parents and circumcised. In the gospel appointed for today, we learn “eight days (after his birth) 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.” This sentence informs us that Mary and Joseph were devout Jews, as it was the Law of Moses requiring all newborn boys to be circumcised when they were eight days old (Lev 12:3).
For centuries this feast day was actually called the Feast of the Circumcision. Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer adjusted the name, emphasizing the naming of Jesus over the circumcising of Jesus. It was customary at the time of circumcision for family and friends to witness parents publicly name the child. This is a tradition that we as modern day Episcopalians have retained. Our liturgy of baptism begins with parents and godparents presenting the person to be baptized by naming them aloud.
Jesus is a name our children know well. It’s the name toddlers confidently shout whenever a question is asked during children’s chapel. It’s the baby’s name lying the manger who children crowd around to glimpse during nativity pageants. It’s a name our children already know, but today we have the opportunity to teach them more about it.
Jesus is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Joshua, or Yehoshuah. When the angel Gabriel tells Joseph to name the child in Mary’s womb Yeshua, Joseph would have known it meant “God saves” or “deliverer.” It’s a heavy name for a young child to carry around and I wonder how Jesus felt about it.
But Jesus isn’t the only name for God’s son in the bible. We’re offered so many more throughout the Old and New Testaments.
The Good Shepherd
The Bread of Life
Prince of Peace
Spend some time today talking through the many holy names for Jesus with the children in your life. My children engage conversations more fully if their hands are busy, so we will make Names of Jesus ornaments. My church created these ornaments by coloring the printable template, then slathering them with Mod Podge during an intergenerational Advent party last month and it was a huge hit. The children immediately recognized some of the names for Jesus, but others were unfamiliar to them like Rose of Sharon and Shiloh. If those names are new to you as well, never fear! With the help of Oremus Bible Browser’s search feature, you can enter each specific name and find where it appears in the bible.
With all the names we have for God’s Son, Jesus remains the most important. Jesus is the salvation of the world just as his name implies. When we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus, we are celebrating the one through whom and in whom the Lord helps and saves his people. And as Jesus’ disciples, we minister in his holy name to the world around us.