You can listen to my sermon for Holy Name Day by clicking here, or you can read a draft copy below.
“In the beginning…” So begins two of the most famous chapters in Scripture. The Book of Genesis and the Gospel according to John both begin even before creation begins giving us behind the scenes access into the heart of God. It seems only appropriate this morning, with the year twenty-twelve being only hours old, as we celebrate the Major Feast of The Holy Name on which our Lord and Savior received the name spoken by the Angel Gabriel, Jesus meaning “to save or to rescue” to take a look at the new beginnings God offers each of us in his Son.
But first, we take a step back and ponder a universal truth: new beginnings are not without difficulty. First Century Stoic philosopher, Seneca, reminds us that “every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.” We often mourn the loss of the old, even as we celebrate the possibilities of a fresh start. New beginnings are exhausting: the first week at a new job, the first few months in a new town, the first… oh… eighteen years with a new child. New beginnings mean extra effort, more work, and more time. New beginnings are risky, but they are not without rewards.
Take, for example, the first ever beginning, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who existed before the beginning, knew only the perfect relationship of love one between the others. What tradition calls perichoresis, this relationship of interdependence was without heartbreak, but God had more love to give than could possibly be contained, and so, in perhaps the riskiest new beginning ever, God spoke into existence the world, its plants, and animals, and human beings who he made in his perichoretic image to be in relationship with him as God was in perfect relationship among the Godhead. Of course, the addition of humanity to the perfect dance of God hasn’t worked out quite as perfectly as it could have, but in those moments when the relationship is perfect, when the Spirit of God pours out upon us, when the will of God comes into focus, we get a glimpse into why God would take such a risk in the first place: perfect love.
And when it came to pass that every new beginning, every attempt God made to restore relationships and renew the face of the earth, was co-opted by a humanity hell-bent on destroying itself, God made a new start, a perfect beginning, and another huge risk. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” God realized that the time had come for a fresh start, and so God the Father, through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, brought forth from a virgin’s womb, God the Son. As a living, breathing, human baby, God the Son brought into the Godhead every new beginning humanity experiences. The joy of a first breath, the tenderness of a mother’s first hug, the comfort of a first meal, and, in the Jewish tradition, eight days later, the exuberant celebration of a first name.
As the Angel had told it to Mary nine months earlier, her firstborn Son received the name, Yeshua, Joshua, Jesus – “the one who rescues, the one who saves,” the one who leads his people into the promised land, the one who came to bring about new beginnings. Jesus is God’s new beginning for all of creation. And this new beginning, like every other, was full of great risk and great reward. In the fullness of time, the risk/reward pendulum would swing all the way from death on a Friday to resurrection on a Sunday, and in between his naming and his rising to new life, Jesus would show us what sort of new beginning God had in mind for his beloved creation: light and life.
We gather this morning, this Holy Name Day, this New Year’s Day perhaps with some cobwebs in our minds after a night that was too long or too fun or both. We gather this morning thinking about how we might do this year differently than the last. We gather this morning standing on the precipice of another new beginning, filled with all sorts of risks and rewards. We gather this morning, in this church, to offer prayers and praise, to give thanks and seek forgiveness, to receive the nourishment of the table and be renewed. We are here this morning in many ways like we are every other Sunday morning and in many ways today is vastly different than most Sunday mornings. For today, moreso than any of the other three-hundred-sixty-five days of the year, is all about new beginnings.
So this morning I offer you a New Year’s Challenge. In addition to whatever resolution you may already be struggling to keep, think about these questions, “What new beginning do you want from God this year? And What new beginning does God want from you this year?” Perhaps you need the freshness of forgiveness this year. Maybe you need the invigoration of joy. Is God asking you to reach out in a new way? Does he want you to give up all the busyness and rest in him? Take a moment, and listen – what new beginnings are lying before you this morning?
In your pew, you have already probably found a sheet of paper with some lines and a prayer printed on it. I’d like you to use that paper as your twenty-twelve fresh start. Write down on it the new beginnings you heard God offering and asking for this morning. And then, when it seems hard to follow through, when the old way seems just too comfortable, read this prayer from Ordinations, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday to center yourself in God’s good gift of new creation:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 285)