Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 1, 2023

YEAR A 2023 holy name of jesus

Holy Name, 2023
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.

And here it is:  A new year.  Every year, at midnight on January 1st, the world celebrates New Year’s Day.  And on this same day, every year, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Name, Jesus.  Why is that?  Well, as we heard on the Sundays leading up to Christmas, the name Jesus literally means, “God saves.”  And that’s why we lift up the name of Jesus on this day, not because the word itself is special, but because the name Jesus is a constant reminder of that 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 to remind us.

But as I do every year on this day, I also want to talk about a different name:; and that name is 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 also an ending, and it’s a doorway, and a transition, and a gate, and so on.  So that’s why Janus gives us January.

The god Janus is 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.  As a child, I remember spending time at my grandmother’s house on New Year’s Day, listening to Casey Kasem tell me what songs were supposedly important in the past year.    None of my songs were ever on that list.  And these days, you can do your year-end wraps on things like spotify and instagram.  We naturally look backwards as we begin a new year, to see where we have been, and what we have done.

And, I think, most of us end up looking backward in judgement with regret, making New Year’s 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 feel 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, as Christians, we have Jesus—God saves—the one 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.  God no longer sees 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 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 raised.  Obituaries and resume’s are by definition an accounting of the past.  They look backward.  We naturally look to the past to tell us who someone is now.  Every job interview is about what we have done in the past.  People 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, and not 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,” as opposed to “have you.”  And the Church always gives you the partnership: “With God’s help.”  It doesn’t matter how you got here.  It matters that you are here.  Again, God always looks forward, never 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: the name that means, 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.  There is always a new beginning, always a new start, because of the Holy Name of Jesus: God saves.


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