(Igbuzo child naming ceremony, Washington DC, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(This post originally written for Speaking to the Soul, January 1, 2012)
Readings for the Feast of the Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, January 1:
Psalm 103 (Morning)
Psalm 148 (Evening)
Isaiah 62:1-5, 10-12
Names are all over the place in our readings today. Our Psalms call to bless and praise the Lord's holy name. No fewer than five names for Israel and her people are mentioned in the verses of Isaiah 62. The rider of the horse in Revelation 19 is named Faithful and True. In Matthew, Joseph hears the name of Mary's unborn child--Jesus--in his dream.
The more we read and study the Bible, the more we recognize that "the business of naming" is an important thread that weaves through both the Old and New Testaments. I've always been especially intrigued how, when one picks Biblical names apart, they have a meaning within the name. Take Jesus' name--Yeshua--"The Lord is salvation." It's as if we are told within the name of Jesus itself, Lesson One in "Understanding Christianity 101."
The mistake, however, is in thinking once we pick the names in the Bible apart, that this knowledge is the be-all and end-all of the message. Human nature has the destructive habit of "Once we know the name of something, once we know how it works, once we have disassembled it and post-mortem'ed it, we're finished, with no further action necessary."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The danger of understanding names is that we tend, once we know the name of something, to use our definition to define the world, rather than letting the world shape and mold us. We tend to use it for the control of things we don't understand. Invariably, this fallacy leads us to placing God in a smaller box than God is capable of occupying. Once we think we fully understand a definition, we fill the air with the aerosol mist of a spray can chock full of of the delusion of control. Instead of letting the names churn our passions, we try to shut our passions down
What would happen, instead, if we let these names shape us instead of us telling them what they are? In Matthew, Joseph's hearing and obedience to his dream saves his new family's lives. What would grow in us if we allow God to speak to our dreams, our hopes, our passions? Our passage in Isaiah gives us a window into restoration and renewal--a journey that begins forsaken and desolate, and becomes formed into a joyful wedding between the holy incarnation of God, and the mundane existence of our lives. We move from a God "out there" to "God with us." We discover salvation when the rest of this cold hard world would rather separate us with a chasm of despair. We move from a state of spiritual insomnia, afraid to dream, to one where we eagerly dare to dream.
On this day proclaiming the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, dare we listen to our own dreams, that, at times, speak the most profound truths to us? Are we ready to accept the new name God has bestowed upon us? It begins with hearing God speak the name of salvation to us in our dreams.