All In One Word

The Nativity created for Bangor Cathedral by Fr Rory Geoghegan SJ
The Nativity created for Bangor Cathedral by Fr Rory Geoghegan SJ

The Holy Name of Jesus                 Ecclesiasticus 51.11-17      Psalm 8      Philippians 2.1-11          Luke 2. 21-24


He was in the world that had its being through him, and the world did not know him [1].   So humbly, so discreetly, did the Son came into creation that most people were unaware of him. The Word was made flesh and lived among us [2] but many continue to know little or nothing of him.  His name means ‘God saves’.  Yet his salvation of what he has made is not generally recognised.  When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception [3].  Gabriel had commanded you will name him Jesus [4].  Mary and Joseph, bringing the sacrificial offerings[5], obeyed this order, and so do we.  The child himself shed blood, as he received his name, as if accepting that he would accomplish his mission of salvation by the sacrifice of his life.  We name Jesus in our prayers. I will praise your name continually [6].  His name springs to our lips at moments when there is no time for more words.  The name ‘Jesus’ sums everything up.  Distilled in his name is all that he has done and is doing and our faith in him. How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth [7].  Despite the discretion of his arrival and the indifference with which he is met, his name, once uttered, has a certain weight.  The name of Jesus is like the wisdom which speaks her own praises, in the midst of her people she glories in herself [8].  ‘God saves’ is the name conferred on a baby born in obscurity who will live for many years hidden in Nazareth.  Yet his name commands attention, notwithstanding the humility of its bearer. There cannot not be glory in the word ‘Jesus’. Like incense on the air, the name of Christ invites worship.  He is all of our prayer and his name says all that we seek to express.


We believe in Christ. That his name should sum up everything about him is to be expected, but what does that name truly say about us?  When we utter his name, surely we are focusing on him not on ourselves?  Yet his name reveals his followers. ‘God saves’ is our whole faith as well as the name of our redeemer.  Mary and Joseph gave Jesus his name and, in so doing, defined themselves as well as the child.  Their life-purpose was to care for the saviour.  He was the focus of their love. We treasure their example of how to love the God who saves us.   They presented him in the Temple.  There Simeon and Anna recognised Jesus as the one promised.  His arrival made sense of their life also.  His name was their meaning.  He was the bringer of the salvation for which they had been waiting all their days [9].  They acknowledged, without vanity, that the destiny of the saviour explained their own life and purpose.  The child had come to save them.   He found them in the world which he had made and loved. So that raising up in himself all that was cast down, he might restore unity to all creation, and call staying humanity back to the heavenly Kingdom[10].    For us also, the one called ‘Jesus’ is the key to who we are.  Before the world was made God chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his presence [11].  Recognition of Jesus is a recognising also of that for which God has made us.  His name tells us who is our saviour and also expresses our need for salvation.  ‘Jesus’ we murmur, sometimes in peaceful devotion, sometimes in great anxiety. In doing so we think of him and also of who and what he is for us.  This is not vainglorious but, to the contrary, humble.  When the Father gave him the name which is above all other names [12] it was so that all beings in heaven, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus [13].  When we genuflect to Christ we make ourselves small before our redeemer and in front of our own high destiny.  In your minds you must be same as Christ Jesus [14].  We are his faithful disciples, imitating his humility and caught up in his mission to help everyone.


May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you [15]. We are asking for help, not congratulating ourselves on seeing something which many others have overlooked.  Mary and Joseph and the first visitors to the stable were poor as the child was poor.  The magi, when they arrived, came in no spirit of condescension. Notwithstanding their distinction, now, falling to their knees they did him homage [16]. We who hear in the name ‘Jesus’ a summary of the deeds of our saviour and of our need of him are also humbled by the manner in which he approaches us. His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave [17].  He presents himself to us modestly and calls out from us an answering modesty.  Although we are a privileged people [18], we realise that this name, which says so much, does yet say enough to us or about us.  In the name ‘Jesus’ is summed up so much about him and about us.  Yet we are part of the world that does not yet know him. He came to his own domain, and his own people did not accept him [19].  We recognise the power of the name of our saviour. However, we do not yet understand enough about the one on whom we realise ourselves to be utterly dependent.


The child was given the holy name which the angel had communicated when he announced the incarnation.  The assent of Mary to the request that she should be the mother of the Son was also an acceptance that ‘Jesus’, which means ‘God saves’, would be his name.  Giving him his name, Mary shows all the disciples of Christ how to address him.   ‘Jesus’ encapsulates all we want to say to him. Calling our saviour by his name enshrines our own commitment to accept salvation from him. Captured in his name is the greatness of his being.  We each can also find in Jesus the fullness of our own life.  The Lord is utterly himself, but by dwelling among us he truly takes us on, with all our imperfections and worse.  His name sums up everything about him, including his astonishing association with us.  Jesus is within us and lets our names sit with his as if we were just like him, as, indeed, we long to be.  Our discipleship is named when we call out to our saviour.  Hailing ‘Jesus’, we pin our hopes on him and accept, as far as grace permits, his hopes for us.  We are his friends and all the time we are turning to him.  Over and over, we convert.  Each time we return to him, we find new depths. Breathing, ‘Jesus’ we discover more and more about him and about what it is for us to be his responsible and faithful followers.   We utter, as prayerfully, as devoutly and as often as we can, his name.  The Father who made us has given us his Son to save us.  As we express the holy name, ‘God saves’ we reach out to One far above us who is also our brother and friend, and already very close to us. Each time we say ‘Jesus’, we renew our faith in him. As we do so, we give thanks for what he has shown us about ourselves.  Our names are written in heaven [20].  We begin again to read them there when we address our Lord, Jesus Christ by the name which the angel gave him.


[1]              John 1.10

[2]              John 1.14

[3]              Luke 2.21

[4]              Luke 1.31

[5]              Luke 2.22-24

[6]              Ecclesiasticus 51.11

[7]              Psalm (9) 8.2

[8]              Eccelsiasticus 24.1

[9]              Luke 2.26 and 2.38

[10]             The Roman Missal, Preface II of the Nativity of the Lord

[11]             Ephesians 1.4

[12]             Philippians 2.9

[13]             Philippians 2.10

[14]             Philippians 2.5

[15]             Ephesians 1.18

[16]             Matthew 2.11

[17]             Philippians 2.6-7

[18]             Ecclesiasticus 24.12

[19]             John 1.11

[20]             The Roman Missal, 3 January, The Most Holy Name of Jesus, the Prayer after Communion