Yesterday most of the world celebrated New Year’s Day as January 1st “arrived” around the globe. For much of the history of the Christian West, however, this date may or may not have marked the actual “beginning of the year.” Jan. 1 was the first day of the year under the Julian calendar used by the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus’ birth, though many common folk in the empire continued to mark the start of the new year on March 1, as it had been under the “old” Roman calendar.
January 1 continued to be the first day of the new year when the present Gregorian calendar was introduced in October 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII “removed” 10 days from the calendar to properly “realign” its days with the solstices (Catholics in Europe went to bed on “October 4” that year only to wake up on “October 15”!). It took a couple of centuries for European Protestants (and the rest of the world) to fall in line, and during that time many of parts of Europe continued to view March 1 as the start of a new year because of its general coincidence with Spring.
January 1 was an important day, however, and Luke’s Gospel tells us why. In Chapter two, right after the famous Christmas passages about angels announcing Jesus’ birth to local shepherds, Luke records in verses 21-22: “When the eight days were completed for His circumcision, He was named Jesus—the name given by the angel before He was conceived. And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were finished, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.”
So, since most of Christian Europe celebrated Jesus’ Nativity on December 25, this “eighth day” fell on January 1 and began to be commemorated as the Feast of the Holy Name. Luke tells us on that original “eighth day,” Mary and Joseph encountered a man named Simeon at the Temple who’d been told by the Holy Spirit that “he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah.” When he saw the Holy Family, Simeon took the baby up in his arms, praised God, and said: “Now, Master, You can dismiss Your slave in peace, as You promised. For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples—a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).
Mary and Joseph came in obedience and “done everything required by the Law,” but consider the extra blessings they receive in the process! When they presented their baby to the Priest, he would ask, “What is his name?” Joseph would say, “His name is Jesus.” I think this day after the Feast of the Holy Name is a wonderful time to consider the blessings we who believe receive in His Name!
The Epistle Reading for the Feast of the Holy name is Galatians 4:4-5: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. At just the right time; according to His sovereign plan, God sent “the Light of Salvation” to the whole world; redemption for those born “under the law” (Paul in Galatians); a revelation to the Gentiles (Simeon in Luke); so we might be adopted as His Children and share in the blessings of His Name. What are some of these blessing?
John 20:31 tells us we have life “in Jesus Name.” Acts 2:38 Peter says our forgiveness “comes in the name of Jesus Christ.” In Acts 3—after God heals the crippled man at the temple, Peter reminds the amazed onlookers, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him.” 1 Corinthians 6:11 tells us we are “washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Simeon waited his whole life for salvation’s light to come. Many still walk in the darkness, despite the reality that salvation’s light has come. Some of us have walked in the blessings of this light for most of our lives; some for a short time. One day, the whole world will acknowledge this Wonderful Name. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Pope Gregory had the power to transform the calendar. Only Jesus has the power to transform our lives and our world.
Psalm 89 (v.15-16) reminds us, “Blessed are those who worship you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.” As you walk in “the light of His Presence” this coming new year—and every day of your life— Remember his promises. Receive His blessings. Rejoice in His Name. And if you are not yet walking in the Light of Christ, reach out for His Grace.