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‘What’s in a name?’: A meditation for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

Last year, for the parochial high school that I serve as chaplain, I taught an upperclass world religions course, aimed at exploring the historic and fundamental doctrines and practices of a variety of Eastern and Western religions. While preparing a unit on religious philosophy, I first came across Kabalarian Philosophy, an early 20th-century system founded by Canadian Alfred J. Parker in 1930 and dedicated to understanding the whys of life.[1] In this system, a name is defined as the grouping of several symbols together that represents the identification of a person or object. It asserts that the power and value of names have long been immortalized in prose, poetry, and religious ceremony.[2] Of no other name and person can this be truer than that of Jesus.

Eight days ago, the child of whom it was proclaimed, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32), was born. Today, the day of his circumcision in accordance with the Law, he receives his name: Jesus (Luke 2:21). What is it about the name Jesus that makes it so special?

The archangel Gabriel first spoke Jesus’ name nine months before his birth, as he announced to the Virgin Mary the news that she would conceive and bear Jesus into this world. The names comes from the Hebrew Yeshua, meaning “The Lord is salvation” or “The Lord saves.”[3] Of Jesus, Gabriel said, “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

This was the first time we heard his name, but it was not the first time we heard of him. Recall God’s judgment upon the serpent, which many of us recalled during services of 9 Lessons and Carols:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)

A testimony from the prophets: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). And from John the Baptist: “He who is coming after me is mightier than I. … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11).

Jesus will say of himself, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). The New Testament writers will attest to his words: “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17); “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17); and Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

From the name of Jesus comes good news: God himself has come to save us. It conveys to us the character of God, who, despite our sin, still loves and desires to save us. When Jesus receives his name and sheds his blood in circumcision, it foreshadows the sacrifice he will make on the cross for the salvation of all sinners. In Jesus’ name is the fulfillment of all the Law and the prophets. In Jesus’ name is the fullness of forthcoming grace.

In a line now famous, Shakespeare suggested that a name was nothing more than a meaningless convention.[4] Yet Jesus’ name is not meaningless; it is indescribably holy. It is holy because no other name reveals to us God’s true and loving nature. To speak, pray, and believe in Jesus’ name is to be drawn closer to the One who is truly unconditional love. “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!” (Ps. 111:9) The Holy Name of Jesus is the name that is above every other name, known or unknown, earthly or heavenly.

How appropriate it is, then, that New Year’s Day is also the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, in that our minds at this year’s beginning are focused on him who will make all things new. Because of this holy child, through the sacrament of baptism, we become holy: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isa. 43:1). Through this holy child we are given the gift of everlasting life: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).

Blessed be the name of the Lord: Jesus, “The Lord saves!”


[1] “The Kabalarian Philosophy … teaches the relationship of Universal Reason to life, how the power of Reason becomes involved in life, and how human individuality is created through the relationship of mathematics, date of birth, language, name, and mind.” See “Mission,” Kabalarians.

[2]Power in a Name,” Kabalarians.

[3] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans, 2007), p. 53.

[4] “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene II, Lines 45-46).


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