A sermon preached for the Feast of the Holy Name
January 1, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Philippians 2:5-11
“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” How about a name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s not as easy to sing as maids-a-milkin’, but it’s what we are given on this eighth day of Christmas, the feast of the Holy Name.
Those words about knees bending and tongues confessing come to us from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s called the Philippians hymn. Scholars think that this was a hymn that was sung at the time–a hymn very much like “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” or “Crown him with many crowns.” Paul puts it in his letter to remind his people, in the form of this hymn they probably would’ve known, of the startling truth of the Incarnation. That Jesus Christ, Lord of all, is God in the flesh, who has come to save us and redeem us from sin, death, and the grave.
But the hymn, like all good hymns, should do more than just articulate a theological truth. It should also challenge. And this one certainly does. For while the hymn describes the nature of Christ and his life, and while it points us to the consummation of his reign in the new heaven and the new earth, it also asks you and me a few simple questions: Are our knees bent now? Are our tongues confessing now? Do our lives match up with our words? And, are we willing to live like Jesus did?
Perhaps the last question is the biggest one. For if we are not willing to live out this Philippians hymn for ourselves, to seek to live like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God–if we are not willing to do that, then our knees certainly are not bent and our tongues are not confessing what we actually believe.
The Philippians hymn says Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave for all. He gave himself up to obedience to God, completely. That’s our calling, too. To empty ourselves of anything that stands in the way of our relationship with God. And so many things seek to stand in our way, don’t they? From bitterness, to hatred, to scorn, to politics, to money, to our way of doing things–they all seek to make us bend the knee and confess. But that action is reserved for one alone: For God.
Since Paul gave us the words to a hymn from the 1st century, let me close by giving us the words to another from the 19th century:
At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him King of glory now;
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
Name him, Christians, name him, with love strong as death,
Name with awe and wonder and with bated breath;
He is God the Savior, he is the Christ the Lord,
Ever to be worshiped, trusted, and adored.
In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true;
Crown him as your captain in temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you in its light and power.
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