A Happy New Year

Depending where you go to church, 1st January is variously observed as: The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, The Naming of Jesus and The Circumcision of Christ; and that is just within this Benefice - by the end of New Year’s Day I had celebrated all three!  And though the Title of the Feasts may differ, the Gospel remains the same.

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told. When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception. Luke 2. 16-21

But it is what happens next that really fascinates me. When the visitors to the stable have, all gone home and Joseph is beginning to think that Mary and the baby are strong enough to make the return journey to Nazareth. And what about the census? The very reason Mary and Joseph had travelled to Bethlehem in the first place.

Picture the scene… imagine the long queue and the, by now, bored looking official who's filling in the forms. 'Name?' He says, not even bothering to look up as Joseph replies: 'Joseph son of Jacob, carpenter of Nazareth.' 'Wife's name?' And Mary replies: 'Mary also of Nazareth.' 'Child's name?' There's a slight pause and then Mary says quietly but firmly, 'He is called, "Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace." ' Just imagine how that would go down!

Jesus was called many things in his life time. He is also called Emmanuel meaning: “God with us”.  He is called Lord, Master, Rabbi and Teacher, Son of Man, Son of God and Saviour. And He is called Messiah meaning “Anointed One”, which in Greek translates as The Christ. But in the Gospel appointed for New Year’s Day he is simply named JESUS – the name by which his parents and friends knew him and he knew himself.

When a child is born, he or she is given a name and immediately little Ann or Andrew are introduced to a whole world of relationships simply because of the name by which they are called. And so many things can be expressed simply through the utterance of a name.

So, we might guess at Mary’s tone of voice when he went A.W.O.L. at the age of 12 years:

‘JESUS’           where are you?

Or when she finally found him chatting to the Doctors of the Law in the Temple:

 ‘JESUS’           why have you done this to us?

Or when the wine runs out at the wedding feast:

 ‘JESUS’           please help that poor young couple.

Or when He asks who is my mother?

 ‘JESUS’          what are you saying?

Or when he is arrested and put on trial:

 ‘JESUS’          what have you done?

Or, when she said again and again

 ‘JESUS’          I love you!

It is remarkable how rarely Jesus is addressed by his actual name in the Gospels he is invariably given a title.

Someone who employed both was Bartimaeus, one of the rare minor characters in the gospels, who cries out to him, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me'. And that simple phrase has been the basis of one of the most important traditions of prayer in the Eastern Church, known as the 'Jesus prayer'. At its briefest it involves a simple slow repetition of the name Jesus; at its fullest it consists of the repetition of a version of Bartimaeus' prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.'  According to the Orthodox Tradition you can use any variation of those words you chose. But the key element is saying the name Jesus.  And as his Mother Mary, instinctively knew and those first disciples discovered it is the only name given to us whereby God becomes as personal to us as does anyone whose name we know and use often.

So, if you are looking for a New Years’ Resolution – How about adopting the use of the Jesus’ Prayer – not just in times of need or in church – but at various spare moments during the day? For it has been the experience of generations of Christians – that if you do so the power of Jesus’ Name will begin to grow on you; so as to make you more aware of God's presence with you, naming you and shaping you to his nature and glory. Here is an example of just what can happen.

Many centuries after the census with which we began, another queue formed of people waiting to register. Not in Bethlehem, this time, but in Maastricht, the year - 1942. The people were queuing in order to register their applications for visas. The bored official is a Gestapo officer at a desk in the police station - and as he gets to the last person in the queue he also fails to lift his head as he barks out his question. But this time he is taken aback not by an answer but a greeting, 'Praise be to Jesus Christ' to which the customary response is, 'to all eternity.' He looks up and is startled to find a Carmelite nun standing in front of him. He asks for her identity card and on seeing it begins to get angry. It is not stamped with a large “J” as it ought to be, nor is the name Edith Stein, preceded by the name Sara which is prescribed for all Jewish women. Edith Stein or more properly Sr Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, later explained to her Revd Mother that her dangerous greeting was an act of resistance. In that police station the conflict between Christ and the Devil, good and evil, light and darkness was being played out. As an enclosed nun, whose contribution to the war was her prayer, it was the only thing she could do to name her Lord in the face of seemingly overwhelming darkness and to praise him.

May we have the same courage of our convictions in this Year of Our Lord 2017 and so recommit ourselves to make his Name known – and His Presence felt… as at the start of this New Year we pray…

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, Lord of Time,

hold us in your eternity.

Jesus, image of God, travel with us the life of faith.

Jesus, friend of sinners,

heal the brokenness of our world.

Jesus, Lord of Tomorrow, draw us into your future for you are Lord forever and ever.

Amen.

 


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