Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Saturday, January 1, 2022

YEAR C 2022 holy name

Holy Name, 2022
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 8
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Every year, at midnight on January 1st, the world celebrates New Year’s Day, while on the same day the Church is celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name, Jesus.  As we heard on the Sundays leading up to Christmas, the name Jesus literally means, “God saves.”  So we lift up the name of Jesus on this day, not because the word itself is special, but because it is a constant reminder of the promise: God saves.  “Jesus” means, God saves.  That’s why we call it the “holy name,” and that’s why we have this feast day.

But as I do every year on this day, I want to talk about a different name: the name Janus.  Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, and passages.  Our month of January gets its name from Janus, and you can see why.  When the odometer of the calendar rolls over, it’s a beginning, and an ending, and a doorway, and a transition, and a gate, and so on.

The god Janus is always depicted as having two heads: one facing forward, and one facing backward.  Seeing the future, and looking at the past.  And how fitting this is for the way we view the start of the new year.  We look back at the past year, and we also give some thought to how things will be in the new year.  And, every year—especially this year—we can’t help but look back in judgement and regret, making resolutions about how things will be better, how we will be better.  And that’s why so many people feel dispirited at the turn of the calendar: because when we look backwards, we can be disappointed in ourselves and others.  And thanks to the Romans, we have Janus, who is always looking backward, always judging, always disappointed.  Just the kind of god human beings would make up, when you think about it.

But then we have Jesus, who is always looking forward.  When we confess our sins together, we hear in the Absolution that God forgives all our sins through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  ALL our sins.  But we still see them, don’t we?  We still lie awake at night with regrets over something we said to someone in third grade, or whatever.  We can see all our mistakes and failures and disappointments clear as day, because—just like Janus—we are always looking backward.

And that’s because—even in a positive way—we always look backwards to define ourselves and others.  We explain our identities by looking at the past.  Here’s my degree; here’s where I served in the military; here’s my Eagle Scout badge; here’s how many kids I have.  Obituaries and resume’s are by definition an accounting of the past.  They look backward.  We naturally look to the past to tell who someone is now.  We want to know, “How did you get here?”

But God always looks forward, never backward.  And that is why the promises we make in church are always forward, never backward.  The priest asks a couple about to be married, will you love, comfort honor and keep each other?  Before a person is Baptized, the priest asks will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?  And the candidate says, I will, with God’s help.  The Church always asks “will you,” never “have you,” and always gives you the out: “With God’s help.”  It doesn’t matter how you got here.  It matters that you are here.  Again, God always looks forward, not backward.

Because when God looks backward, God sees . . . nothing: all your sins have been erased.  They’re just  . . . not there.  When God looks back there is nothing but Jesus: God saves.  Your sins, your mistakes, your regrets, those are no longer known to God.  They are only known to you.  God’s hindsight sees nothing but goodness and forgiveness and Jesus.  Because God saves.

May God give us all the grace to see our lives as God sees them, repenting of our past, turning around, and always looking forward.  Because of the Holy Name of Jesus: God saves.


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