1 January 2017
Feast of the Holy Name
This feast used to be called the Circumcision, rather than Holy Name. The earlier name carried perhaps more weight — the event in Luke is about more than just naming the child. Male children became members of the covenant people by circumcision on the eighth day. This is about Jesus becoming a child of the covenant.
Of course, girl children weren’t circumcised, but even so, a sacrifice was offered — in this way the father claimed the child as his own. Sacrifice puts blood under the control of men, rather than leaving it in the control of women (menstruation and childbirth). Sacrifice established kinship and lineage. A child became the child of its father by sacrifice. If a father refused to sacrifice, the child was abandoned. A male child became an heir (usually around 12 years old) by sharing a sacrifice with his father (cf., the story of Abraham and Isaac, and Jesus in the Temple). Circumcision is a form of male blood-letting, establishing a male lineage within the covenant.
For Christians, baptism serves one of the purposes of circumcision — to make a person an heir of the covenant. In some periods of Church history, it also served the purpose of a naming ceremony: hence the meaning of the word christen, to name. We are baptized in (and/or into) the name of the Trinity. The Trinity does the baptizing, and once baptized, we share in the life of the Trinity. To speak in someone’s name means to speak as if one were that person.
When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are interceding with God as if we were Jesus. Baptism, then initiates one into the priesthood of Christ. This is sometimes called the priesthood of all believers, but care must be taken not to imply that each believer is individually a priest, but that together, we all share the priesthood of Christ in our common life. Acting in concert in our worship, we take the role of Christ in intercession and offering to God.
The Aaronic blessing describes how the priesthood is to invoke the name of the Lord over the people, reminding them of their covenant status, even renewing their covenant status, as the people of the Lord. Paul reminds us that Jesus was born as a member of the covenant, in order that we all (Jew and Gentile) might receive adoption as children. And Luke is at pains to make sure he presents Jesus as fulfilling all the requirements of the Law, and is therefore a true child of the covenant. As are we.