SERMON:  The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple*

February 2, 2020

The Rev. Eileen Weglarz

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:33-40


Passwords. Passwords. And more Passwords!  They are a pain in the neck.  Anyone else tired of passwords?  We seem to need more and more of them to simply function in life.  Anyone here have a good way of remembering all your passwords?  Passwords are the open sesames to protected systems on the Internet.

Want to pay for purchased on eBay with PayPal?  Password.
Want to sign in to AOL, or Gmail?  Password.
Want to micro-blog on Twitter? Password.
Want to see your kids while you talk to them on Skype?  Password.

Every time we sign into a protected system we must provide certain secret information so that the system knows we are who we say we are. If you don’t know your personal “password,” the system won’t let you in.

Geeks in the know caution us to use cryptic number-letter combinations that are totally random. Good luck with that.   What many people actually use is the name of their first dog, or part of their Social Security number, or their mother’s maiden name, or their oldest child’s birthday, or some combination of any or all of them.  It’s almost as if we need our “secret name” to personalize us, to make some kind of sense to us, to identify something unique about us.  Maybe a personal password, complete with secret meaning just for us, takes away some of the anonymity of the Internet.

The highest level security systems rely upon the biological secret names held by each one of us. Biological secret names?  Try retinal scans, or fingerprint analysis, or even specific DNA matches. The higher the level of security, the more biological and less numerical the passwords.

But the ultimate, unrepeatable identifier for each one of us has yet to be mapped out.  I call them “soul scans.”  We do not have the ability to perform “soul scans” on people who come before us.  The secrets locked in the heart and mind, the honesty of our words and the authenticity of our deeds, the motivations behind all of our actions are locked deep in the recesses of our souls.  The Greek word “psyche” is usually translated as “soul,” but can also more extensively mean “life.”  It is our soul-life that still keeps its secrets.

In today’s gospel text there is a public declaration of Jesus’ name. This is the name revealed by Gabriel to Mary when the angel made his annunciation to her. The name “Jesus,” Yehoshua in Hebrew, means “Yahweh saves.”  The Hebrew rendering is “Joshua.”  It is not an unusual name.  It is, in fact, a quite common name. The most extraordinary birth in history comes wrapped in a very ordinary name. The One whose name is above every name (Phil.2:9) is given a common name.

Did you ever wonder why New Years occurs 8 days after Christmas? On the eighth day, the Jewish child was circumcised and received his name. The eighth day is the octave day of Christmas.  It came about, in the Western world at least, that the octave day of Christmas became the beginning of the New Year. It is a happy omen for the New Year to begin on this day when the child Jesus received his name, the only name by which we can be saved (Matt. 1:21; Acts 4:12).

But Jesus is not this child’s only name.  Immediately after Jesus’ name is declared in the temple, Simeon reveals another name for this child: “the Lord’s Messiah.”  Along with the identity of “Messiah” comes a host of other new names.

*In Isaiah 9:6 this messianic child is given the names “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

*In Matthew’s gospel Joseph is told the child will be known as “Emmanuel” (“God is with us”) and “Savior.”

*Simeon also dubs the baby Jesus as the “Consolation of Israel” and as the “Revelation to the      Gentiles.”

*John the Baptist names Jesus the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29).

*At Jesus’ baptism the heavenly voice declares him to be “My Beloved Son” (Mark 1:4;    Matthew 3:17).

*Finally, in Revelation 2:17 there is a reference to yet another name, a secret name “a new    name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

When expecting a new baby in the family, at some point most of us get sucked into buying one of those baby-naming books or consulting one of those baby-names websites.  Not only do they provide huge, long lists of names, from the common to the crazy, but they also give the etiology, the linguistic origins, of the names.

Do you know your name?  We all have the name given to us by our parents or by our friends. A family name with roots can help us grow new branches.  A derogatory name, given by cruel kids in school, can keep us trapped in one place all our lives.  A name tagged on by one event or one experience can shape our lives, for good or ill.  Are you a “Junior”?  Are you a “Doofus” or a “Geek”? Are you a “Screw-Up?” Names can be painful.

Our public names are public knowledge.  But each one of us also has a “secret name,” a “soul name,” a name that God has given us as a guard and guide through our lives.  We don’t just discover our secret name. Our secret name is the name we grow into, the name we learn to inhabit, the name that awakens in us as our souls grow and as we live our lives.

One of the few who have ever had their secret name explicitly revealed was Mary. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her, before he revealed her miraculous conception, the angel declared Mary’s secret name:  “God’s Favored One.”  Today’s text reveals that just because your secret name is “favored one” doesn’t meant that “favoritism” erases pain and suffering, even bitterness.  Simeon’s prophecy predicts that Mary’s heart will be “pierced” by swords of opposition and antagonism directed at Jesus.  This was hard truth, hard to take by a new mother celebrating the birth of her first born son. No other truth could cut so close to the bone.  But no other truth would be so truthful.

There is the name the world has given you:  your “real” name.

Then there is the name God has given you:  your “secret” name, or “soul name.”

What if this year your #1 resolution was to find out what your soul name might be? How do you find out what your soul name is?

1) First of all, you don’t find out it by going inward, by navel-gazing and being focused and fixed on yourself. Rather, throw yourself into the needs of the world. Let loose your compassion.

Think of all the astounding events surrounding Jesus’ birth, all the prophets and wise men and seers like Simeon and Anna.  Yet Joseph and Mary did not tuck-in to a temple lifestyle.  Instead they trudged home to their ordinary life in their very ordinary town.  It was living and growing up in Nazareth, learning a trade at Joseph’s side, being part of a growing family that worked to stay fed and clothed, that allowed Jesus to grow “strong” and to be “filled with wisdom” and to find the “favor of God” resting upon him.

2) As you throw yourself into the needs of the world, throw yourself into your passion.  For it is your passion connected to your compassion that will most likely reveal your “soul name.”

Malcolm Gladwell wrote several books. The author of The Tipping Point and Blink also authored Outliers: The Story of Success (2008).  His major discovery is this:  If you want to be a success in your passion, whatever your passion is, you must be willing to invest 10,000 hours of practice to take your passion from pastime to success.

Ever clock how much time you spend watching TV, or playing video games, or texting?  10,000 Hours spent on these pursuits aren’t going to reveal our secret names.  What if in this New Year we begin to stockpile 10,000 hours of compassion and passion on our soul search to discover our secret name. We can only begin to know our secret name gradually, as life unfolds.  And we cannot be sure what our secret name is until we see ourselves reflected in God, in whose image we are made (Rev. 2:17).

But we do have some clues: Here are my “secret or soul names” for some of you. I may not have them exactly right, but at least they’re in the right ballpark.  Some of you come to mind as “the compassionate one,” others “super reliable,” others “quick witted and funny,” someone else, “the teacher,” or “one  who loves to serve.”

Do you know your name? Your secret soul name?  It just might hold the answer to what is God’s purpose for you in this life, or maybe at this time in your life.  Take a few moments to think and pray about what your secret soul name just might be... Amen.

*Resource:  ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., Leonard Sweet Commentary, by Leonard Sweet.