Today is the Day of Celebration of the Holy Name of Jesus Christ. Our gospel passage begins in Luke Chapter Two.
“When the angels had left them, and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)
Angels of the Lord met with these shepherds at a farm, somewhere within the region of Bethlehem. Why did the angels meet with the shepherds? Why not pick out some high society religious folks from the temple in Bethlehem? The shepherds were not a part of the 1%. They were more on the lowest side of the 99%. This is in keeping with the message of this passage. The message is that the birth of Jesus is not intended for a special class of people.
“So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16) We read earlier in Luke that Joseph returned with Mary to his hometown to register, in obedience to the decree that went out from Quirinus, the governor of Syria. Joseph, even though he lived in Galilee, he was descended from the house of David. It is probable that he had relatives here, and he probably stayed with them for a few days before Mary gave birth to Jesus. “Why Joseph and Mary were there, the time came for her to deliver her baby”. (Luke 2:6) They had probably been here at least a few days, and while they were there it became time for Mary to deliver her baby. It’s probable that she had a midwife there and perhaps other women relatives to assist with the birth. The word “inn” is another word for “guest room”. This was a peasant house, perhaps in a group of houses with a courtyard in the middle of the homes that connected them to each other. There were very few commercial motels or inns.
The upper rooms were probably full of other relatives or friends that had traveled to Bethlehem to be registered. The lower room was a room that also housed animals for the evening, animals that were protected from the weather, or kept inside so they would not be stolen. It was in manger room that peasants also stayed. It would have been much quieter and less crowded here for Mary and Joseph. There upper rooms were full of people and noise. A pregnant woman giving birth does not need that kind of environment. We are told that Jesus had his last supper in Jerusalem in probably an upper room. Jesus also told his disciples in the last chapter of Luke to wait in Jerusalem until they were empowered from on high. And, why they were in an upper room, a guest room, waiting on the promise, Pentecost happened, and the church was born. It started in the “inn’ or the upper room of a house.
Continuing with our passage we read: “When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them”. (Luke 2:17-20)
Picture if you will, children running and playing; women and men scurrying around, sweeping the inner courtyard that connected the houses, and those preparing food. This was the context and the people with their customs and ways of living, and right into the middle of this context of culture and family, Jesus was born. And, he was made known to common ordinary people, “the peasant class’ of shepherds, carpenters, and farm workers. There were Pharisees, tax collectors and even a couple we know of from the leaders of the Jewish community that became followers of Jesus. But the message is obvious here. Jesus came to his own, the poor, the needy, those on the lower tiers of society.
“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”. (Luke 2:21) Jesus Christ is born and per Jewish custom, which Joseph and Mary kept, on the eighth day he was brought into the temple. He was circumcised and his name was pronounced. “His name will be Jesus”
Jesus was born and became a part of the families of families. This was his flesh and blood. This was his humble beginnings. He was born and moved into the warp and woof of his neighborhood. And, his name shall be called Jesus, a name that means salvation from the same Hebrew word “Yeshua” or Joshua, and the word means savior. Yeshua, or Jesus, was a common name back then. It is also a common name for Latinos. When I worked at the VA Hospital IN NYC, I met several Hispanic veterans named “Jesus”. (Pronounced Hesus)
Jesus took a common name. He was not named after a great patriarch of his family, although he was from the family of David. He was born to a poor family. When Mary brought Jesus into the temple, she brought an offering for cleansing. The poor that could not afford to bring a lamb and a dove were to bring two turtle doves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and one for a freewill offering. In other words, “Jesus was not born with a golden spoon in his mouth”. There were no trust funds in his name.
Names are a serious thing to everyone. After all, unless we change our name when we get old enough, none us have a say in what our name is at birth. We learn to fit our name in with who we are, or we grow to become who we or others think our name stands for. People often ask me out of courtesy if I would rather be called Dave or David. I tell them I really don’t care. There are people that do care though, and they will correct you if you don’t get it right. I understand that, and it is their privilege to be known by how they perceive their name to be.
I wonder what the names of the shepherds were. We really do not know how many shepherds there were. In our pageants, we usually have three. We do not know the names of the wise men that came to see Jesus. Nor are we told of anybody else in the manger scene except for Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The name Jesus means Savior, and in reading the gospel narrative about Jesus, we see a pattern of living among people, listening to their stories, ministering to their needs.
It reminds me of the incarnation passage in John that says this: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.We saw the glory with our own eyes,the one-of-a-kind glory,like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out,true from start to finish”. (John 1:14) He came to his own and was born into the warp and woof of the culture of humanity, but we are told that:“The world didn’t even notice.He came to his own people,but they didn’t want him”.
If Jesus moved into your neighborhood, a dark-skinned man from the Middle East would you welcome him? Is he the right kind of people? Is he a refugee?
Is there room for him in the “inn”, your “guest room”? Jesus name reflects his message of love and acceptance of all people. He came to save, to heal and to bring good news. And we as little Christians are called to do the same, to live up to the name “Christian”. And how will they know we are Christians, by sending out the correct Christmas card? Putting Jesus back into Christmas means more than just a politically correct Christmas Card. It means to live into our name, the name Christian, and that message and example is modeled for us in the Gospels by someone named Jesus.
His name will be called Jesus. The Holy name of Jesus!