The Feast of the Holy Name

In the recent Marvel series “Loki,” a character refers to the master of the universe as “He Who Remains.” That is all: the one who out-endures all else.

In other fiction, the Supreme Being is often portrayed as saying something like this: “People have called me many names: Baal, Brahman, Jehovah, Allah…”—as if it really doesn’t matter.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. What a difference a name makes.

I’ll be teaching my course on World Religions again soon at Crandall University. I’ve been teaching world religions for several decades now, and as I introduce students to such divinities as Brahman, Vishnu, Devi, the Unmoved Mover, Zeus, T’ian, Odin, Amaterasu, Allah, and, my personal favourite, Baxbakwalanuksiwae (don’t ask), I inwardly rejoice in a very different name: Jesus.

Names, properly chosen, sum up the person named. Throughout the Bible people are named, or renamed, to indicate their part in God’s plan. Sarah is indeed a princess, and Abraham becomes the father of a multitude. Israel wrestles with God—over and over. James and John do keep making loud noises. And Paul, the mightiest of missionaries, is truly humble “in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8).

When God’s messenger told the parents of his incarnate Son to name the child a particular name, God passed over all the grand options. This Son was named according to his driving purpose, his literal raison d’être: “Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”

Jesus means simply “salvation,” which for Hebrews would mean “God saves,” or, perhaps, “Please save us, God!”

Jesus doesn’t mean “Impressive Lord in front of whom you had better bow down.” That’s what “Allah” means. Jesus doesn’t mean “The Structuring Principle of the Universe.” That’s what “Logos” means. Jesus doesn’t mean “The Creator and Destroyer of All.” That’s what “Shiva” means.