Names are very important to us. I know when we were choosing Simone’s name, we argued for months about her name. We knew how important a name could be: a name could bring back memories of someone who was mean to us, of someone who was beautiful, or of someone who was relentlessly teased. Our daughter was already going to be saddled with another fate about names – our family’s hyphenated last name. And so back and forth we went, worrying about what kind of person our child would grow to become, and whether the name we chose would fit. Names mean a lot to us – they are ways of honoring the past and anticipating the future. We see that evidenced in the ways that certain nicknames stick with us in certain points of our lives.
Today we celebrate the Holy Name of Our Lord. Eight days after the birth of Jesus, like any good Jewish family, Jesus is circumcised and given the name “Jesus.” The importance of this momentous event is given just one verse in Holy Scripture But the EC gives this one verse the attention of entire feast day. Why is Jesus’ name so important? Jesus name is important because his name tells us something about him. His name, derived from the Hebrew, means Savior. His name is given to Joseph by the Angel Gabriel. Not only does Jesus’ name signal obedience by his parents, his name proclaims him to be the Savior. Or as we heard from Isaiah this Christmas: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Jesus’ name is important to us because Jesus’ name says something about whom we understand Jesus to be to us.
Naming is important throughout Holy Scripture. Abram is renamed Abraham – the Father of a multitude of nations. Isaac, the son of old, barren Sarah was named to remind her of the laughter that slipped from her mouth when God told her she would bear a son. Simon was renamed Peter – for he would be the rock that the Church would be built upon. Names have a power in Holy Scripture that mean something, that change something, that mark significance.
Fifty years ago, our parish was given a name too: The Episcopal Church of St. Margaret. Of course, for some reason we chose the oddest of the Margaret’s – St. Margaret of Antioch, who is famous for being swallowed by a dragon, and then slaying the dragon through the use of the cross in her hand. But, like any child, this is the name we are given, whether we like our name or not. The truth is, like any child, the name both defines us and is redefined by us. At one point in our history, our name signified new life and growth – a place of excitement in a community without an Episcopal presence. At another point, our name was associated with strife and struggle. To some our name has been associated with “that cute little church with the red doors.”
And 50 years later, our name is being redefined once again. We are that church who expresses radical hospitality, welcoming all seekers on the faith journey. We are that church who expresses radical love, serving our neighbors here in Plainview. We are that church expresses radical witness, sharing the good news of Christ. In this 50th year, we have much to look forward to as we live into our name, and as we continue to redefine our identity in this time and in this place. Amen.