A sermon preached at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Sunday 27 December 2020 by Revd Harry Ching.
In the name of the living God who is Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
Today, the church celebrates the circumcision and naming of Jesus.
Names are important in many sectors of society. Former Batman actor Michael Keaton selected such stage name in the beginning of his career, so that audiences would not confuse him with the other Michael Douglas.
Angel Gabriel did not appear in my Father’s dream but Confucius, he claimed! I am known to you as Harry, conveniently anglicised from my Chinese name -Hin Lai.! That is the RP English pronunciation.
Hin Lai 顯禮 Hin2 Lai5 or Xian2 Li3 (a little foreign to me actually), and have discover how they were to pronounce in Japanese けん れ for the first time, there is also a Korean way to pronounce them slightly differently. All Chinese characters are conceptual – when Hin and Lai combines, the two words combine to become the meaning – displaying politeness.
顯 Hin is a verb, ‘display’ as you can such word in Computer monitors or in the Christian Season of Epiphany, while Lai is present/ gift /ritual/rite/etiquette/ceremony/salute
– perhaps was a way for me to take interest in liturgy and ceremonies!
In the ancient Biblical world, names were important for identity and meaning for the
individuals as a member of a community. Children were given names by their parents, which were significant to the circumstances of their birth or the destiny of the child. Whether the Prince of Wales chooses to become Charles the third or George the sevens it’s still hanging in the balance!
For Moses, this in Hebrew means literally ‘to draw out’. This is an appropriate name for Moses, who as an infant was saved from death by being drawn out of the water for Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses then became the leader of the Hebrew people and led them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom.
Meanwhile, the name of a person in the Bible changes because of specific circumstances. Jesus changed the Hebrew name of his disciple, Simon, to the Greek name, Petros, which means ‘rock’, because Jesus wanted Simon to build a foundation for his mission to the world. Saul romanised his name to Paul an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire. It might be bemusing for some of the non Chinese speakers to know that the outgoing Archbishop of HK Paul Kwong (dedication service is today) does not have a conceptual Chinese name, his Chinese is simply Paul, it comes with the perspective that his family were dedicated fervent Christian who brought gospel to many Dark corner of Southern China in the previous two centuries.
The name of the son of God, our saviour, has a very common name, instructed by Angel Gabriel to Mary and Joseph. It does not stand out from other Jewish boys. Jesus, or shortened form of Joshua, was a common name for pious Jews to give their sons, the meaning of names was important and Ye-shu-a “God, is salvation”. Jesus – God is salvation.
Our Lord Jesus Christ born to a very ordinary family, grew up as a very ordinary person for the majority of the time of his life, son of a carpenter. His community knew him just like one of theirs, lived and breathed as the son of a carpenter dwelt amongst the people in Nazareth.
I wonder sometimes Erik Brazilian or Joan Osborne how they came up with such catchy chorus. “Just a stranger on the bus, try to make his way home” a very contextual reincarnation!
The circumcision of Jesus was significant as it continues the covenant between God and the Israelites Jesus did not need such circumcision as the son of God but as an ordinary person of David’s line. The son of Joseph to accept and acknowledge his identity as a Jewish person, as the family continues to dedicate themselves as faithful Jewish people.
Christians today do not require such painful circumcision but yet through the redemptive work of Jesus, the son of God did the unthinkable to reconcile us between God and mankind. The new covenant in Christ. We continue to commemorate what the Lord has commanded us as we will celebrate in the Eucharist a new covenant as well as apostle Paul reiterate in his writings in Corinthians and Galatians that in Christ we are a new creation that no longer require the physical circumcision but a spiritual circumcision that for the redemption of sin by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God’s love did the unthinkable, out of the of the ordinary.
And in this new creation and in this new dedication that we are in union with Christ again that in this baptism we dedicate ourselves to God whether we are Jews or Gentiles, Chinese speaking or Ebor speaking. As in today’s Galatian reading we are brought to a new identity as Children of God through Christ.
Loving thy neighbour!
As children of God through the spirit of Christ, we go beyond what this world could offer. It is the sacrificial tough love that’s what we do as disciples of Christ, the Christians are known as ‘the little Christ’. (Or the word in Chinese) Our response in the name of Christ at the dismissal to go and love and serve the Lord that is who we are that is what we are reminded of our covenant – walking in the way, the truth and the light.
When children or adult (increasingly common these days) coming to church to be baptised, standing in front of the congregation to dedicate themselves to the service of God and of others beyond our community.
For Many years living across many expatriate communities the highlight of the year around Christmas time was the oversubscribed numbers baptism requests in parishes followed the week after Christmas or half terms, there would be a huge amount of individuals who gather in parish churches home or abroad for parents and godparents to we dedicate the commitment, to promise and you bring up these children in a manner that is acceptable in teaching of the universal church, asking for the blessing from the community known and unknown to them and the universal church, the Church of Christ.
They will honour the names of the people that gone before them, sadly, this year we may not have this opportunity to continue such occasions.
Jesus was born for you. And we, as followers of Jesus, are now for the world, and for others, for the ordinary. That is how we go into the world. Filled by the love Jesus, filled with joy.
That is a high calling for us, (Not easy for sure!). That is why we go back again and again to the Gospel, to the church to receive the sacrament, to Jesus, to seek him with our heart, to meet with him in our soul, to believe in him, to be filled with him and with his joy again and again.
I hope they will be at least a chance for us to remember those before us in our Creeds or In intercessions and we continue this legacy and teaching of church and to give thanks for the love and contribution and legacy which they left behind we have that next time when we gathered there will be a chance to dedicate these young once by the blessing of our loving God.
There are many young children including my predecessor’s grandchildren is 15 months old and waiting for the opportunity to be dedicated in church and baptised into the community of Christ. We pray for them, their parents, godparents-to-be, may this day to come sooner than we would like it to be.
God’s name in parts God’s blessing. We who bears the name of Jesus today, Jesus now revealed to be the son of God and bearing the Messianic name ‘Christ’, are blessed in him, the anointed.
That is cause for celebration on this feast (of the naming of Jesus), as the calendar year 2020 draws to a close, we hope year 2021 will continue to be filled by God’s blessing.
In the NAME of the Father and the son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.