By Denise Trull
I have always found it a lovely thing that even as early as the 16th century, the Church has dedicated each month of the year to a special saint or to one of the many wonders of our salvation. It is rather like dipping the secular month into a shining holiness that permeates it and reminds us that we live in time but also out of time, each day of our lives.The first month of the year belongs to the Holy Name of Jesus. It has its own beautiful feast on January 3, but we take it with us as we travel through each day of January.
Names are marvelous things. One of the many joys of awaiting the arrival of a baby is sitting up late in bed with your husband eagerly poring over names in baby books, wondering which one will float solemnly and definitively above the rest. The meanings fascinate us and make us wonder, “What will this child be?” Names bring a tangible reality to someone we cannot see just yet. Sometimes a name comes easily to mind and never changes. Other times, we have a name all picked out, neat and tidy, months ahead of time, and then suddenly when we see that unique little face for the first time, we change the name entirely. Names are magical things. They seem to choose us even as we choose them.
But what if the child is a Divine Child? How is a name to be chosen for such a one? How beautiful a thought it is that the name of Jesus came to his foster father in a dream. St. Matthew relates that Joseph went to sleep sick at heart, worried about Mary and whether he should divorce her quietly because of the child that stirred in her womb -- a child that was not his own. How anxious his thoughts, how restless his sleep until the comforting magnificence of an angelic voice seeped like balm into his ranting indecision with a name: “You shall call Him Jesus.” And with that name peace permeated Joseph’s heart. At the name of Jesus, Yeshua, peace always descends. Joseph must have run to Mary’s door in joy to share the child’s name with her. Did they say it back and forth to each other in relieved gladness and wonder? Yeshua.
Was this name utterly unique and one of a kind, as we might assume? Surprisingly, no. I read once that many scripture scholars agreed most matter-of-factly that it was a very "common" name at the time Jesus was born. It always surprised me when I was younger, that Jesus shared his name with a lot of other little babies of His time. The great Adonai, He whose name was never pronounced by the lips of the Israelites, took on this common name popular to the specific time in history in which He was born one cold winter night. He might have even shared it with one of the shepherd boys who came smiling quietly to adore Him. Yeshua. How appropriate that His humility would just slip into a "common" name as He had quietly slipped into the rest of our humanity.
His name was not announced with drama like St. John the Baptist's name. John's name loosed the tongue of Zechariah and unleashed the magnificent words of the canticle we pray at Lauds every morning. And it was so fitting, this -- for John was to be a voice crying in the wilderness. Jesus, on the other hand, was to be the grain of wheat that falls silently to the earth and dies, “not opening His mouth.”
All the times Yeshua was spoken so casually over His lifetime. Called down a street, sung by his Mother, said firmly over his shoulder by his father Joseph over a plank of wood. Come, Yeshua, time for bed. Yeshua, hold the wood like so. Yeshua, let's pray now. I love you, my Yeshua, my dear, sweet boy. Yeshua, come play with us! Yeshua, fetch some water. I will miss you, Yeshua, whispered by his mother as he headed down the road away from Nazareth.
This wonderful, common name filled Nazareth’s streets with grace and power…and they knew it not. I can’t help but think His name was the last word on the lips of Joseph as he lay dying, a name Joseph had spoken hundreds of times to this beautiful, familiar face he had known as a child and loved now as a grown son -- gazing down on him with loving and Divine eyes -- making him the patron of a “happy death.”
But then Jesus began His public life, and this common name, like the rest of our humanity, received an uncommon power, grace, and truth. This became a name that devils feared, lepers called out to be healed, apostles came to love and cling to, a name martyrs needed to cry out for courage. It is a name we ourselves call out in temptation, in joy, in fear, in despair when only His name is our help. We all have experienced its power. We say it over and over fifty three times in the rosary, as if Our Lady wants to hear it over and over to remind herself of the first time she saw His little face and said His name in breathless wonder, Yeshua. She never tires of that Holy Name. Neither should we.
And so, as we begin the New Year, let us take His name with us from one day to the next, and let it bless our efforts with its power. Let us honor it and bow our heads when it is spoken; this once common name that will never be common again.
Blessed be the Holy Name of Jesus, now and forever!