Today, we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. Following Jewish tradition, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised and named eight days after he was born. Jesus was not an unusual name. In the Aramaic, it was Joshua. Perhaps he was known to the village as Joshua ben Joseph since he was raised by Joseph the carpenter.
Some of us like our names. Some of us wish we had other names. Some of us have changed our names because those given us did not suit us (for whatever reason). I have always liked my first name. As an adult, I found out that the roots of Sheila come from Cecelia, and St. Cecelia is the patron saint of music. Because I am musical–I used to play a little piano, and I have been a singer all my life–I love that connection to a saint. And last year, as I was going through the belongings of an acquaintance who’d died, I found a bas-relief of St. Cecelia. Considering it a gift from him, I put it in my upstairs prayer space, where she presides every morning.
This morning, as I read the daily lectionary and said my prayers, I thought it was ironic that on the first day of a new year, it is the feast day of The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Last night, many people celebrated New Year’s Eve with partying and revelry, and no doubt too many people had too much food and too much drink. Today, they will pay for that excess, and perhaps resolve not to do that again!
Many people will begin today by making New Year’s Resolutions–instruments by which they hope to improve themselves or their lives.
Yet this morning’s Psalm was an important reminder to me of who and what is important. In this nine-versed psalm, what we get is praise–not praise of human beings or how to improve ourselves or how important we are, but praise of the Holy One who has created us.
Psalm 8 begins and ends with this acclamation: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name over all the earth!” In other words, it is not a human name that is most important. No one with a human name created a night sky full of stars, or an ocean that crashes in beautiful white foam on Otter Cliffs in Maine, or a lake where loons cry, or fields of crops that stretch golden as far as the eye can see, or snow that falls and transforms an ordinary place into a landscape of winter beauty. God created this earth and all that is in it. It is God’s name to be praised for this island home we inhabit.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
Yet God cares for the creatures who live on this island home, and if we are connected to God and aware of the Holy One who has created the world and all that is in it. we understand our own role. We are supposed to care for the earth and all that is in it. As my Old Testament professor Ellen Davis used to say, we are not to have dominion over the earth in a way that we run roughshod over its resources–its land, waters, oil, gas. We are to (in her words) “serve and preserve” the earth. Yes, we may be human beings–“a little lower than God” as the psalmist writes–yet this does not mean that we use and abuse God’s creatures or God’s creation as if they or it is disposable.
Always, always, always, you and I must remember Whose Name is most important. It is God, the Holy One, the Creator of heaven and earth. And because you and are have been created and given life by God, we are stewards of the earth on which we live. Whatever we resolve on this New Year’s Day, perhaps we should stop for a few minutes and reflect about how the goals we set will improve not only our own lives, but the world we see around us. How will our own goals make a difference in someone else’s life? How will our own goals make a difference in the water that others drink or the natural resources that belong to all of us? How can we share those resources more equitably? How can we be more thoughtful about not wasting the resources we have so that others can enjoy what they do not have now? How can we take care of people–God’s creatures–in such a way that we “respect the dignity of every human being” as our baptismal covenant calls us to do?
In other words, just because today is the first day of a new year, the world is not just about me, or you. We–human beings–have been created to be in community: with God, with each other, and with the creation that God has given us to serve and preserve.
How will we do that in 2012? When we come to next New Year’s Eve, will God’s earth be in a better place? Will God’s creatures–both human and non-human–have better lives? If the answer to those two questions is to be a positive one, perhaps I have some serious reflection to do on this day. Perhaps you do too.
May the Holy One who has given us life and hope give us the strength and courage to act as God’s stewards in 2012. May we help to bring God’s reign to earth as it is in heaven. Then may God’s Holy Name be praised.
(c) The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton
Pictures of Black Madonna and Blue Madonna by Frank Wesley and accessed through Google images
Pictures of Otter Cliffs and Compass Harbor, Maine by Sheila N. McJilton