Thursday, January 1, 2015

Holy Name - Jan 01, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Magliula, OHC
Holy Name, Thursday, January 01, 2015

Numbers 6:22-27 
Galatians 4:4-7 
Luke 2:15-21 

The creche in the monastery church
We have been observing the feast of the Holy Name since the middle of the 6th century, and for good reason. What’s in a name? Ancient people had a great respect for names. They believed that a portion of the personality of the individual resided in the name; the more powerful the person, the more powerful the name. In South Africa, when an American brother joins the community there, the Xhosa observe his personality and behavior before giving him a Xhosa name that describes him. 

There is power in a name. We have the name of Jesus set before us as we begin this New Year. What does it tell us about God, about ourselves? We were named and sealed as God’s Beloved in our baptism. As the Epistle reminds us, we were claimed, adopted, forgiven, and made members of the Body of Christ. We are born from Love in order to love. Love is where we came from and Love is where we’re going. God sees us for who we are; nothing more and nothing less.

That this feast is celebrated within the Octave of Christmas is no accident. God truly became Emmanuel, “God with us.” In Jesus the divine and human are forever one. In the Incarnation God took on all human nature. We flow into God: God flows into us. It is the nature of love to flow. Our true identity and our deepest freedom comes from God’s infinite love for us. No barrier of majesty or distance divides us from God. God has drawn near to us unabashedly as an infant. In this infant, the defenselessness of God is apparent. God comes without weapons, because God does not wish to conquer from the outside, but desires to win and transform us from within. God assumed this vulnerability in order to lead us to union with the self and with God. 

The Gospel today has two distinct parts: the visit of the shepherds, and the circumcision and naming of Jesus. The shepherds, in response to the angels, risked leaving their flocks to seek Jesus. After finding Mary, Joseph, and the child, they are convinced of the arrival of the long awaited Messiah, and go again, to proclaim it. 

In accord with Jewish custom, eight days after his birth, Jesus was circumcised. This ritual initiated males into the community of Israel. It was a sign of the covenant. The name given Jesus is both common and extraordinary. It is an Aramaic form of Joshua---a common Jewish name meaning “God saves”. In the original Aramaic there was no word for “salvation.” Salvation was understood as a bestowal of life. To be saved was to be made alive. Jesus is the Life Giver. 

We’ve spent the weeks of Advent trying to be present to the present, to wake up to a deeper encounter with ourselves and our God made flesh. We live most of our lives in the past or future. It’s how our minds work. If we are to experience the ever present Christ, it must be here and now. We have two examples in the Gospel today. The shepherds respond immediately to the angels’ invitation to go and see. Joseph and Mary respond in the present to what is expected of them as good Jews. The saying is true that “God comes disguised as our life.” Everything in life is to be welcomed, as somehow the expression of God’s will. Christ is always coming. God is always present. It’s we who aren’t.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a 17th century French Jesuit wrote a spiritual classic called Abandonment to Divine Providence. He writes “every moment we live through is like an ambassador that declares the will of God to us.” There is no more better way to seek the will of God than moment to moment, to see what this moment offers me is the grace of God. If we did nothing more than that, he says, we will attain the highest levels of transformation. Things won’t change, we will. 

God uses everything, even our mistakes. De Caussade writes, “We must accept what we very often cannot avoid, and endure with love and resignation things which could cause us weariness and disgust. This is what it means to be holy.” This is what it means to be awake: to be constantly willing to say that God could even be coming to me in this. Even this! Just this! 

I think we all shrink from this challenge because we know we can’t do it on our own. We only succeed by God’s grace now and then. We often don’t want God as God is; we want God as we imagine or would like God to be. But God always works with what is. That is why there can be no real obstacle to union with God except our own resistance. God can and will use everything, absolutely everything, even the worst things.  Augustine wrote: “In my deepest wound I found you, Lord, and it dazzled me.” People who are present will experience the Presence. It’s largely a matter of letting go of our resistance to what the moment offers us. To be here, now, is what de Caussade calls “the sacrament of the present moment.” 

Pondering the name of God and learning again what it means is an excellent beginning for a new year. Through the name of Jesus, the power of God is at work to reshape all personal and social circumstances that distort God’s purpose. We make our new beginning today with the assurance that God is present. As we gather around the altar, in the Name of Jesus, may we, with the Bread and Wine, be transformed and be strengthened to live now as the Beloved.  +Amen.

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