Monday, January 01, 2007

January 1 – The Feast of the Holy Name

Perhaps more than any other season in the year, Christmas inundates us with its great repertoire of symbols, plowing and enriching our thoughts and feelings and visions with its universal time, its universal language of liturgy and music, its universal message of peace, good will, and joy to all.

Something similar is true of all the other symbols we use to communicate with one another. It is no different with art and the dance, with poetry and prose, with all our myths and stories and the language they require for their telling. This seems especially true of Christmas.

No wonder, the Wonder of it all.

It is common religious practice often to think of such symbols as icons, as windows through which one may prayerfully discover and perhaps experience a greater depth and power. We speak of sacraments in that way, as "outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace... as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace" (BCP 857). As well, it is not uncommon illiterately to make icons into idols, to admire -- or to be offended by -- to see only the window and to remain blind to the view, failing to discover deeper meanings altogether.

On the First Day of January in the very middle of these Twelve Days of Christmas, the church keeps a day whose symbol, whose icon is for Christians perhaps second only to the cross. We call it the Feast of the Holy Name. It recalls for us that this child of manger and miracle became through his flesh a son of the Old Covenant. And it recalls that through his naming as Jesus he became a symbol and bearer of the New. Thus this Jesus parable and paradox is a name above every name that, like the cross, anyone can use or misuse, but that is always rendered superficial until we can read through and beyond and behind the symbol.

The power of the Jesus icon has not been nor has it ceased to be the least source of great division in the Christian tradition. The study of this person and his work in our own time in the "Jesus Seminars" creates likely some of the most enriching and most controversial scholarship since the great credal councils themselves.

For in and through the window of the Jesus of history there is discovered the Christ of faith and the possible reconciliation of all humankind. Through the icon of his holy name is revealed the profound irony of the Word made flesh in Christmas.

Christmas, like anything else that ever happens, including you and me, enters history through this peculiar event and its peculiar people with whom we share our lives. If it is not a miracle, then it is such an exception that it might as well be.

It has been said that God's sense of humor is perhaps no more apparent than in his creating human being. That irony of God, that reversal of events by surprising us with the most familiar, is perhaps never more apparent than in his choosing our human being for a window through which we can see not only into ourselves, but beyond that into our neighbor's and into God's very presence.

In the name of Jesus are we named. In the name of Jesus do we pray. In the name of Jesus are we made whole. What a remarkable way to begin a new year.

Out of Nowhere is an occasional piece, intentionally daily, but not likely. On Fridays, it picks up a theme from the coming Sunday's propers. Copyright © 2006 Lane Denson III.