Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
The Name of Jesus
Texts: Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:15-21
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We all know about first days. The first day of a new job, the first day of being in love, the first day of sobriety or seeking help for mental illness, the first day of a diet and exercise plan, the first day of parenthood, the first day of New Year’s Resolutions. There is, along with fear and all of the other emotions that accompany these first days, a sense of newness, hope, energy, wonder. We know things are different; we are in the midst of the change. On the first day, we don’t know how things will look and feel in a week, or a year, or twenty years, and we may not even know if we will make it that far, but there is often a sense of readiness to take on the world, as though anything is possible. Although we know there will be challenges, on the first day we are not prepared for the inevitable ups and downs of the journey ahead. We are not yet settled in for the long haul.
A week ago, as we do every year, we celebrated a birth—a first day. And today, we gather on the first day of the New Year to celebrate the day on which this child was presented, circumcised, and named. This event feels very different from Christmas. Mary and Joseph, as they bring their son to the temple, are not in the first day anymore. They have heard the words of the angel Gabriel, and the words of the shepherds, telling them that their son is not just an ordinary child, but the Savior, the Messiah of the House of David, good news for all people, and Mary has been pondering these words, wondering what it means. She still doesn’t understand all that has been said, doesn’t know all that is to come, but as Mary and Joseph bring their son to the temple, they are making a commitment. As parents in this congregation do when they bring their child for baptism, Mary and Joseph are introducing their son to their faith, the traditions of their ancestors. They are presenting their child to their community of faith. They are publicly promising to raise their child to love and honor God. They are committing to be in it for the long haul. Mary and Joseph are calling their son by name: Jesus.
Whether to parenthood, marriage, friendship, recovery, the work God has called us to in the world, or those elusive New Year’s Resolutions, being committed for the long haul is not easy. It does not mean that we have everything “figured out,” that we know what it will look like down the road, or that we feel confident all the time about how we are living out that commitment. We may at times still feel as uncertain as we did on the first day. We may wonder why we ever made the commitment in the first place.
When we are committed for the long haul, we know the path will not be easy. Along with joy, love, fulfillment, and hope, there will be pain, uncertainty, fear, and doubt. Being committed, we accept all that is a part of this life to come. Mary and Joseph knew this, and knowing this, they brought their son to the temple, stood before their community, and called him by name: Jesus.
Being in it for the long haul is not something we can do on our own. It is a community affair. That is why Mary and Joseph went to the temple to present and call Jesus by name. It is why we celebrate baptism and marriage in the midst of worship, surrounded by our family, friends, and community of faith. When things get challenging, we face the unexpected, and we wonder if we can continue on the path, our community surrounds us, offering encouragement and hope, reminding us that commitment is not easy, and that we are not alone.
Even more important than community, being committed for the long haul is a commitment to God. Mary and Joseph, as they brought Jesus to the temple and called him by name, were following generations of faithful people who believed in God, and honored traditions that placed God in the center of their lives. As they presented Jesus in the temple, they were not only making a commitment to their son, and their community, but to the God of their fathers and mothers. They were promising to remain faithful to God, and to teach their son to be faithful also. And, as they called their son by name, Jesus, they were putting him in the care of the God who had always been faithful, trusting that God would love and guide Jesus as he had done for them.
As we start the New Year, the making of New Year’s resolutions has a “first day” feel to it, and we name goals for ourselves, with the best of intentions, that often fall by the wayside by Valentine’s Day. Today, we are invited to reflect on our relationships and commitments, and to remind ourselves and each other that we are in it for the long haul. We are called to consider what it means to us in this moment to be faithful to our friendships, our families, our vocations, and most importantly, to God.
And, on this day, as we share the story of Mary and Joseph bringing their son to the temple, calling Jesus by name, we recognize that they are honoring their commitment to a God who has never failed in commitment to them. To us. It is the faithfulness of God that makes commitment possible, for them and for us. When we know that God is in it for the long haul, we can trust God to guide us in all that we are called to, no matter what challenges and fears and doubts may present themselves. We can trust that, with God, anything is possible.
Like Jesus, we, too, have been called by name. God told Moses that Aaron and his sons were to proclaim to the people a very intimate blessing. The Lord keeps us. The face of God shines on us. God looks upon us with favor, and gives us peace. When we hear this blessing, we are reminded that we have been called children of God, and that God will never abandon us or forsake us. We have been named children of God. And God, the one who names us, is in it with us, for the long haul.
Thanks be to God!