Just about every year, on the first Sunday of the year, the Church begins the year with this feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. If the Epiphany happens to fall on this Sunday, then the Holy Name is still observed on January 2nd. The Church is trying to give us the good example of beginning everything we do in God's name. We all know from experience that many of the things we set out to do will be frustrated in some way; that we will meet opposition, and have to leave some things incomplete. We know too that many of the things we do accomplish will seem unimportant when we look back at them in the future.
But if we begin each of our activities in Jesus' name, they take on a special significance: First of all, we will be inclined to be a bit more selective about the things we spend our time on. It only stands to reason that we will be inclined to do worthwhile things in Jesus' name; things of spiritual worth, and material things that are truly useful and beneficial for us and our families and others around us. Hopefully, we will be reluctant to do bad or even trivial things in the Lord's name.
Saint John Chrysostom urges us to do everything in the Name of Jesus: "If you eat, if you drink, if you should marry, if you set out on a journey . . . should you speak of any business . . . call upon Him to help you . . . then apply yourself to the thing at hand. "Wherever there is the Lord's name, everything will be well," Chrysostom continues, "If the names of [rulers] are affixed to documents, to insure that they are authentic, how much more the Name of Jesus. . . . If you say with faith 'In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,' you have done what is asked. And, see what great things you have done; for you have created within you a new man."
Things done in the name of Jesus also tend to take on a sort of
"sacrificial" character. They
will still require effort and work on our part;
and they may still end unsuccessfully – but if we do them with our
Lord, then we can offer our exertions and our disappointments along with His
sufferings for us on the cross. Even
our commonplace activities will then help us toward sanctification. The name "Jesus" is the Latin version of the Hebrew
"Joshua," which means "He who saves His people." By entrusting all we do to the memory of our Savior, we unite
ourselves with Him in His work of salvation.
Modern people are often unaware of the great privilege that it is to know
our God by His name. We have lost
the concept of respect that our parents and those before them had for names in
general. In the past, we knew
people as "Mr. Johnson" or "Mrs. Smith" or
whatever – particularly if they were someone of greater age or social status.
In polite circles, calling someone by their first name was a mark of
intimacy; something done only with
people whom we knew well; and often
not in the presence of others.
At first, the Jewish people didn't know God's name. And when it was finally revealed to them, it was allowed to be pronounced only once a year by the high priest, standing in the holy of holies. And even he didn’t dare enter without bringing in with him the blood of a sacrificial victim to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the people. The rest of the year, everyone referred to God in a round-about way, calling Him "Adonai – Lord" or referring to Him by the sort of made up name, "Jehovah." You will even see that today, in print, as orthodox Jewish people spell the name of God as “G-d.”
The Jews, quite correctly, perceived that to know someone's name was to have a claim on them and their affections; to be able to attract their attention by summoning them. It was one thing for Abraham to speak affectionately to his son, calling him Isaac; or to summon him in from the field by shouting out his name. It was an entirely different and unthinkable matter to exercise the same power over the Almighty One.
The angel revealed the name of Jesus separately to His mother and to Saint Joseph. If there was any doubt in either of them about what had been revealed to the other, it had to have vanished when they realized that they both knew the name of the Child – something that no other human being knew until Mary and Joseph chose to reveal it. Today’s feast recalls that they have, in fact, chosen to reveal it to us, and that we are invited to reverently call upon Him and invoke His help and protection. This is then a great privilege. One which we must never take lightly.
We are forbidden by the Second Commandment to use any of God's names for unworthy purposes; be it the name "God," or "Jesus," or "Christ," or whatever. And we ought to admonish those around us when they do so. It is a terrible sign of the decline of Christendom that people run around using our Lord’s name as a fearful swear-word, thinking that they are somehow being gentile by using it in preference to some actual vulgarity.
But there is also something of a positive duty in connection with the name of "Jesus." If we realize that His entrusting His name to us is an act of love, we will understand that we are expected to respond with love for Him. And we can do that by calling out His name regularly and with respect, "Jesus, my Jesus, I love Thee." (or) "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner." (or) "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, come to our assistance."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux tells us, very poetically, "The Holy Name of Jesus is the sweetest song ever sung … the happiest thought ever to enter the human mind. Like oil poured out, it illumines, it nourishes, it anoints our wearied limbs; it brightens the light of our intellect, enkindles love in our hearts, and softens our sufferings. The Holy Name is our light, our food, and our medicine."[i]
We are, after all, God's chosen people. We are privileged, even, to know His name. We are to protect His name, to cherish it, and to do all that we do in the name of "Jesus."
[i] Second Nocturn of the Holy Name, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, sermon 15 on the Canticle of Canticles.