Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Eighth Day of Christmas/ The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ: January 1

What’s in a name? In Judaism and Christianity, everything. It was a specifically named God, YHWH, who called Abram, and who renamed him Abraham. Angels told Zechariah to name his son John, and told Mary and Joseph to name their son Jesus, Emmanuel, the Messiah, the Christ. It was the Risen Jesus who met Saul and renamed him Paul. Isaiah said, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The name YHWH is derived from the word “to be.” Jesus means, “He who saves.” Emmanuel means, “God with us.” Messiah means “Sent by God”—in Greek, Christ.

Maybe it started out with one group of people thinking their God was bigger than everyone else’s god. In a manner of speaking, they were right. They found that YHWH was everywhere they went—not in a single location, as was supposed of other ancient gods.

As time went by, this people had the gall to proclaim that their God was actually everyone else’s God, too—that there never were many gods, but only one, the one who announced to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” God is the one who simply Is—undeniably, irrefutably, and so present at all times and in all places that we can be fooled into thinking God is absent. Does a fish ever say, “Hey, I’m in water”? So, too, are we in God’s presence.

And yet, God has a name—has many names. The ancient Israelites were not allowed to pronounce God’s name—YHWH—out loud. In their sacred writings, they substituted the Word “Elohim”—in English, the LORD—which, curiously, is plural. The people had known God for so long that the earliest continuous references refer to God as Gods. It took time for it to sink in that there was only One. But the plural name, Elohim, stuck.


In Muslim tradition, there are 99 Names of God. In Zoroastrianism, there are 101 Names, or even 1001.

In Christianity's Trinitarian theology, the One God is both singular and plural—three and one simultaneously. God cannot even be limited by number. God is solitary and in community with Godself.

For many of us, it may be second nature simply to talk to God, to talk to Jesus, to shout, “Holy Spirit, come!” This is a great gift—to be able and invited to speak God’s name and enter a conversation.

“You are in my heart/ I can feel your beat/ And you move my mind/ From behind the wheel / When I lose control/ I can only breathe your name/ I can only breathe your name.” Here’s Sixpence None the Richer.

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