Wondrous and Ordinary

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Luke 2:15-21.

One week ago today, on Christmas Day, in the afternoon, I went into my living room, and sat down on the couch, and did nothing.

Lee and I had been up late the night before, of  course, keeping Christmas Eve services. And they were glorious. At the 5 o’clock service there were so many kids who came up front to hear the Christmas story book read out to them. And at the 10:30 service the choir did an even more spectacular job than usual, and there were so many Trinity families come together to enjoy the holiday – people I usually don’t get to see but once a year. And then after the late service I was just too wired up to go straight to bed; so Lee and I sat by the Christmas tree, in the candlelight, and were happy.

And on Christmas morning we did church again – my singing voice had recovered some by that time. And then we had a Christmas brunch with friends, which was both tasty and plentiful.

And then, when all the festivities and liturgies and special occasions were done, I went into the living room, and sat down on the couch, and did nothing. Nada. Stared into space and smiled a lot. I think I might have dozed off for awhile. And after all the wondrous and wonderful goings-on of those two days, sitting there doing nothing was so normal, so ordinary, so not-special, that it ended up being kind of special in its own way. Its very ordinariness helped reveal the special gift that the entire Christmas celebration is. The wondrous and the ordinary together made the gift whole.

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name. You may not know it, but this Feast is one of the more important feasts in our calendar. It is one of ten holy days in the calendar that are considered important enough that they bump a Sunday: if the feast falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, then you don’t use the Sunday prayers and readings, but the prayers and readings for the feast. The Feast of the Holy Name is a feast of Our Lord that takes precedence.

And why is this feast so important? Here is the scriptural basis for this feast day: “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.” That’s it.  One sentence. A footnote, really, to the whole Nativity story. Eight days after Jesus was born, his parents did for him what all parents of boys in those days did. It’s kind of anticlimactic, actually. And actually that’s kind of the point.

For Mary and Joseph, circumcising and naming Jesus is in some ways a return to normalcy after the wonder and the amazement of the Nativity. After the rushed trip to Bethlehem; after being turned away from the inn and sent to a stable; after the birth in a time and place they could never have predicted; after the angels appeared; after shepherds came saying they’d heard the heavenly host singing praises to God for this child; after the glory of the Lord shone round about them all – after all these strange and wondrous things, it was almost as if Mary and Joseph could come back to earth, come back to things that made sense, come back to a life that was livable in human terms, when they brought their baby for a normal bris, and fulfilled the normal covenant ceremony, and gave him a normal name. Jesus, Yeshua, was the name given by the angel before the child was conceived, yes; but it was also a simple name, a name that was very common among Jews of 1st-century Palestine, a normal name. For Mary and Joseph, this eighth day was so normal, so ordinary, so not-special, that it ended up being kind of special in its own way. It brought the wonder of the week before home and made it whole.

And that is precisely what makes this holy day so important for us. After the rush and wonder and special services of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, after the time-out-of-time sort of strangeness of the week between Christmas and New Year’s, after the secular celebration of New Year’s Eve and the spiritual promise of a new calendar beginning – after all of that, the Feast of the Holy Name is a kind of reminder that life goes on, that things come back down to earth, that normal tasks and normal relationships and normal names are still there and still real and still matter. This holy day celebrates what is ordinary. And its very ordinariness helps reveal that it’s the wondrous and the ordinary together that make the gift of Christmas whole.

Because as ordinary as the name Yeshua was in its time, it is still for us the Holy Name. As ordinary as it looks on the surface, the naming of Jesus inverts the entire metaphysics of Creation – it turns the relationship of creature and Creator inside out – it reveals that God is with us in the very simplest things and makes the most basic humanity divine.

The Word of God incarnate, the Word who is with God and is God, the Name of God pronounced from whom all created things receive their names – that Name now receives a name, a human name from human parents.

The One who made the covenant, the One who stood before Moses on Mt Sinai and pronounced the Name of the Lord, the One who said “I will be your God and you will be my people” – that One now receives membership by circumcision within the covenant community.

The One who said “Be fruitful and multiply,” the generative power from whom all earthly generations arise, the One from whom all families of the earth are named – that One now receives a family, now is acknowledged and adopted and taken in as this human father and mother’s own.

The naming of Jesus turns the order of Creation inside out, and reveals the cosmic, mystic, salvific, transcendent glory beyond all things within the ordinary, normal, unremarkable, everyday name Yeshua. The Feast of the Holy Name is when we come back to earth after Christmas, and find everything normal transformed.

Because it is the wondrous and the ordinary together that make the holiday whole. The Holy Name reminds us that Jesus is still with us, after the angels return into heaven, after the shepherds go on their way, after the presents are opened, after the dinners are eaten, after the old year is put to bed, after all the holiday stuff is done, Jesus is still with us – and all the ordinary, normal, unremarkable, everyday things we do are now named by his name. And like the name Yeshua itself, all the ordinary names we name and words we say and things we do can open up into infinite, unlimited, inexhaustible depths of divine and holy love. Because the Holy Name holiday is the wondrous and the ordinary together, therefore every ordinary thing named by his name has the potential to bring us into wonder.

So I invite you today to let the ordinary names and faces and things around you to become hints and glimpses and revelations of God’s wondrous love for you. Speak the name of someone you love, and hear the echoes of God’s Love being named through it. Do a common kindness for someone near you – someone you’re close to or someone who’s a stranger – and know the loving-kindness of God acting through you. Say a prayer in the Name of Jesus, and feel the love of Jesus filling your heart to be the grace you seek. Be your ordinary self, and let the wondrous love of God be together with you and make you whole.

That’s how the Holy Name of Jesus can make us holy, too. And that is what we celebrate on this wondrous and ordinary feast. Amen.