Reflection for the Feast of the Holy Name
January 1, 2023
Good morning, St. Aidan’s. Welcome to the first day of the year 2023, to the eighth day of Christmas, and to the Feast of the Holy Name. We observe this feast on the eighth day in accordance with the Jewish tradition Jesus practiced, as referenced in our gospel passage from Luke (2:21): “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”[i] Today’s Feast celebrates Jesus’ official naming by his parents in the Temple, the ritual embrace of a name announced to Joseph by angelic intervention before Jesus was born, as we heard in Weston’s sermon two weeks ago. We might also hear in this reference to the eighth day a sign of new life, as Christians came to embrace it.[ii] The eighth day is a day of new beginning, of becoming, of mysteriously unfolding vocation— I think of how Luke’s version of the transfiguration locates itself uniquely on the eight day (Luke 9:28).
I think too of this eighth day, this feast day in our context, located in a threshold between storms. Along with the rest of our region, we have been blessed and challenged by the rains these past several days, especially yesterday. In our town just south of here, water raced down San Bruno Mountain in brown rivers, as also happened in Bernal Heights. Some of us spent time here at church cleaning up the courtyard and narthex from overflowing water, and we’ll have help from a plumber in the coming days. And yet even so, I think of the blessing of rain bringing much needed moisture to this so-often parched land, blanketing the mountains with bountiful snow, raising the levels of our lakes and reservoirs.
In all of this watery churning, both chaos and new life feel afoot. In a key scene in one of my favorite books, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper[iii] – newly released in a twelve-part BBC podcast that I highly recommend[iv] – a flood breaks a terrible, frozen impasse between warring good and evil archetypes. I don’t think it will spoil the story to say simply that something beyond either of these groups is let loose and allows new life and possibility to emerge.
In this New Year and on this feast day, my prayer for all of us is that we might receive this watery blessing, allowing ourselves to be transformed even amid its unpredictable, sometimes messy qualities. May we receive the gift of our name, our names, anew and embrace the mysterious gift of our becoming.
[i] Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament Second ed. (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 112 & 114. [ii] E.g. The Epistle of Barnabas ch. 15: “I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.” https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0124.htm [iii] Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising (New York: Atheneum, 1973) [iv] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xtvp7/episodes/player