Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Feast of the Holy Name (Homily II for 5th of January, 2013)

Deus Donavit Illi Nomen
Super Omnes Nomen

Homily for the Sunday of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
  Quintus autem die Ianuarii MMXIV AD
(Extraordinary Form-St. Joseph’s in Troy, NY)

Rev. Michael Taylor

For a Child is born unto us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.[1]

Back in the day, when priests (a) wore biretta’s and (b) would sit in choir for masses, you could sometimes tell when a priest who was preaching wanted to mess with his brother priests. You see, it was custom that a priest would remove his biretta when the sacred name was uttered during the homily. So a preacher could very easily keep those in choir occupied depending on how great a devotion he had to uttering the sacred name. Many of you might remember a practice of nodding the head when the sacred name of Christ was uttered. Many a school children would write “JMJ” on the corners of their papers, invoking the patronage of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, yet not wanting to write the name out so as to not sacrilege the name. Indeed, it was for fear of sacrilege that we have the familiar symbol IHS, which are the first three letters of Christ’s name in Greek, Iota, Heta, and Sigma. Thus it called to mind the name of Christ without using the fullness of the name.
How differently our disposition seems to the sacred name these days. When is the last time you heard another deity’s name taken lightly? When have you ever heard Allah’s name taken in vain? Or Buddha? Vishnu? Shiva? Yet God and Jesus’ name get taken in vain with a frequency that is almost dizzying. One thus is forced to ask, why? And it is because inherently, we understand the truth that there is a power behind a name. That to invoke a name means to invoke someone’s response. If someone calls out your name, you’re forced to react to that. It is also the means by which we know a person. A person is known by a family name, that means something in terms of origins and relationship. This is why the prohibition of profaning the sacred name is the second commandment. For the Hebrew people, the number of a commandment shows the order of importance it was given. Thus the treating of the Holy Name with veneration was the second most important commandment.[2] Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain.[3]
When Moses stood upon Mount Horeb in the presence of God within the bush that was engulfed in flames yet not consumed, he wanted to know what name to tell the people of Israel. Is this “god” speaking to him merely the god of this mountain, of this dessert, of a certain people? What “god” is this? So Moses said to God: “Lo, I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them; the God of your fathers hath sent me to you. If they should say to me: What is his name? what shall I say to them?[4] The response God gives is not a name and it is certainly not what Moses expected; God said to Moses: “I AM WHO AM.” He said: “Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.[5] This is not a name that exactly roles off the tongue. Yet in Hebrew, the four letters that were transcribed (without vowels lest anyone be tempted to treat it casually) become known to as the Tetragrammaton; YHWH, what is sometimes called Yahweh. So often when you read the Hebrew scriptures, you’ll see the word Lord written as Lord. This was done to show that the sacred name had been replaced with Adonai or Adonai Elohim (meaning “Lord” or “the Lord our God”).  Sometimes even that was too close to the divinity of God to refer to, so the people would refer to God as Hashem, “the Name”. Indeed, it was held that only once a year, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies of the temple, and on this highest feast day, would dare to utter the sacred name in prayer. A rope would be tied around his waist though, so that if he entered unworthily thus profaning the sacred name, and God smote him for his audacity, the people could pull the body out without having to go in after the fallen priest. Do you start to get the sense that the name of the Lord is a reality worth treating as sacred?
This sacred name, indeed, any of the titles of God, was an invocation of God’s presence and power. It was the name of the Lord that Moses invoked when he beseeched God’s mercy for the stubbornness of the people of Israel.[6] It was by the name of the Lord that David conquered Goliath.[7] It was to the name of the Lord that Solomon dedicated the temple of the Lord be built.[8] It was the name of the Lord that Elijah called upon to defeat the prophets of Ba’al and perform the miracle of fire.[9] It was the sacred name that Job blessed despite all his many trials and tribulations.[10] And it was the promise of salvation for those who call upon the name of the Lord that the prophets foretold.[11]
And now, God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world.[12] Indeed, one should give pause at the very name of Jesus, in Hebrew Yeshua which means “the salvation of Yahweh.” So just as Yeshua bar Nun, Joshua the son of Nun, led the people of Israel through the waters of the Jordan River into the promised land of Canaan, so now does Yeshua bar Miriam, bar Dau’id, bar Abrohim, bar a’dam, bar Elohim Adonai, Jesus the Son of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of Man and the Son of God now lead us through the waters of baptism into the true promised land of eternal life. When you realize the titles that our Lord and Savior has rightly bestowed upon Him, how can one but feel awe before even uttering so venerable a name? He is the Author and Perfector of our faith,[13]  the Captain of our Salvation.[14] He is the first and the last,[15] the Alpha and the Omega,[16] the one who was, who is, and is yet to come.[17] He is the firstborn from the dead,[18] the firstborn of many brethren,[19] the firstborn of all creation.[20] He is the Son of God,[21] the Lamb of God,[22] the Holy One of God,[23] the Great I AM.[24] And this is the One, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but emptied himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross! Because of this God hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in the heaven, on earth and under the earth: and every tongue shall confess, to the Glory of God the Father, that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.[25]

[1] Isaiah 9.6
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church §2144: “Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes. the sense of the sacred is part of the virtue of religion..”
[3] Exodus 20.7; cf. Deuteronomy 5.11
[4] Exodus 3.13
[5] Exodus 3.14
[6] cf. Exodus 34.5-10
[7] cf. I Samuel 17.45
[8] cf. I Kings 5.5
[9] cf. I Kings 18.32
[10] cf. Job 1.21
[11] Joel 2.32: And it shall come to pass, that everyone that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved…
[12] Hebrews 1.1-2
[13] Hebrews 12.2
[14] Hebrews 2.10
[15] Revelation 1.17, 2.8
[16] Revelation 22.13
[17] cf. Hebrews 13.8
[18] Revelation 1.5
[19] Romans 8.29
[20] Colossians 1.15
[21] Luke 1.32
[22] John 1.29
[23] Mark 1.24
[24] John 8.58
[25] Philippians 2.6-11

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