While the rest of the world was celebrating New Year’s Day–or recovering from their celebrations from the night before–the Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ on January 1. That got me to thinking about the significance of names and naming, in Scripture and in our own lives.
Most parents take the job of naming their children very seriously. It’s a big responsibility, and we want to find just the perfect name every time. We want it to sound right, to look right, and to say the right things about our child. Boys’ names need to seem solid and masculine, but not boring; girls’ names should be feminine and pretty but still be the kind of name one can take seriously if the girl grows up to be a heart surgeon or a Supreme Court justice.
Mary and Joseph, apparently, did not get to pore over a list of most-popular baby names. They did not get to name their firstborn child after a relative or a friend, or worry about what how his name would look on a driver’s license or a business card. They named him Jesus because that’s what the angel told them his name would be. I wonder how many parents in the 21st century would be okay with having to forfeit the right and the privilege of naming their own child? We tend to see our children as our own, rather than thinking of them as gifts given to us by God. It might surprise or even worry many of us to think that God already has an identity in mind for them even before they are born, a destiny and a purpose that are more important than our own hopes, plans, and dreams.
So, to steal a line from Shakespeare, what’s in a name? Our names do help shape how the world sees us, and in turn they become an important part of who we are. Think about the name of our parish. By identifying ourselves as the Church of the Good Shepherd, we are telling the world that we place our trust and our hope in Jesus Christ, who is the true Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. We remember that the Good Shepherd is the one who knows his sheep by name, and who searches for the one who is lost.
With our name, the Church of the Good Shepherd, we also announce that our communal identity is important to us, that we want to be a flock who follows where the Good Shepherd leads. We do not each get to go our own way; we will survive and thrive together, or not at all. The Good Shepherd will guide us to green pastures and living water. The Good Shepherd will feed us and help us grow. Our name says a tremendous amount about who we are, and who we want to be.
Happy New Year!