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Every Knee Shall Bend

Luke 2:15-21

The Rev. Jon Roberts

2 January

2011

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

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The Vision of the Cross by assistants of Raphael, depicting the vision of the cross and the Greek writing "Ἐν τούτῳ νίκα" in the sky, before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, 28 October 312.

At the name of Jesus
Every knee shall bend
Every tongue confesses
That Jesus Christ is Lord.[1]

Today is the day in which we commemorate the Holy Name. The meaning of a name is so important. Any parent will tell you this. Do you name the child after the mother or father? Is it something passed down from previous generations?

Nine months or so in the womb, you ponder the mystery of a name for your child. You have to wonder "What's in a name?" Feelings about certain names take the full spectrum. For example, what do you call a girl who loves to fly a kite? – Wendy. What do you call a boy who loves to work on old cars? – Rusty. What do you call a girl with a golden tan? – Amber. What do you call a boy who lives on a dirt road? – Dusty.
Now let's take on a new meaning for the name of God. What do you call God when he becomes human? – Jesus. Let our new year's resolution today be one that ponders the meaning of this name. Let us not take it lightly so that we understand God's great purpose.

There was a man who had great power, who bent his knees in prayer and confessed the sign of Christ when things were at their worst. He wasn't exactly a Christian. He wasn't sure to whom he was really praying, but he knew he needed help. Perhaps it was because the planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn lined up perfectly in the southwest horizon, not far from the constellations Capricorn and Sagittarius. Perhaps it was by tracing how the sun travels two imaginary lines across the sky, moving eastwards. Whatever it must have been, it encouraged General Constantine, and four hundred thousand troops, to overcome unbeatable odds.

The year was 312 AD and the Roman Empire was in a civil war. Constantine was going up against Maxinius, the emperor of Rome. Sometime before the largest battle of his campaign, he struggled with all the great generals before him, who put their trust in many different types of Gods. Time after time, they did not prevail. He didn't want to be another statistic so he decided to pray. He bent his knee and asked for God to help. That evening he had a vision. It was the sign of the Chi-Rho; he saw in the sky. He told all his commanders that the sign was followed by the words, In hoc signus (IHS), meaning, "In this sign you will conquer." On every piece of armor, their shields and labarum, the sign of Christ was branded. It turned out that by this sign the smaller army was encouraged with hope and swept over their opponents. When the battle was over, they bowed down on their knees and confessed with their tongue that God gave them victory that day.

Constantine is believed to be the first Christian emperor, but maybe we shouldn't be too hasty about his loyalty. By his own words, recorded by Eusebius, he said the Christ had visited him. He lifted the heavy persecutions on Christians enforced by preceding emperors. He had the sign stamped on his battlements and even on some of the imperial currency; but one wonders why it was left off of one very important place. Standing on the Coliseum in Rome, look down and you will see the Arch of Constantine. It was built in 315 AD, three years later. On the attic, the top portion, there is the whole scene of his victory at the Milvian Bridge over Maxinius. Wouldn't you suspect he would have the integrity to have a simple Chi-Rho chiseled in? Many have debated this. Although he claimed victory by the sign which conquered, there were still powers within the governing bodies, who were uncomfortable about making this deity sovereign over the Republic. The Chi means the source of all goodness and the Rho refers to power. How fitting it is to know that the first letters in Christ refer to the power and source of goodness.

We have heard Jesus, being male, was circumcised. On the Feast of the Holy Name, we witness the circumcision, as he is cut off from one place and sent to the next. Where else do you find the act of God's people being sent forth? Remember, the New Testament affirms, secures and completes that which is spoken and witnessed in the Old. Moses is worth addressing. He was the one who was told to lead the people through the Exodus, to walk through the parted waters and to go up on Mt. Sinai with two tablets made of stone. On which, God would write with his own finger the commands needed for their salvation. They were sent into the wilderness and remained for forty years, cut off from what they knew and poised for moving into the promised land. Salvation is about a promised land. For the Hebrew, it was a land of milk and honey, known as Canaan. They were ready for God to save them and put them in this place.
For the Christian, it is a land known as heaven. We have heard that in the Hebrew tradition, a child would be named eight days after they were born. Where else do you find the name of Jesus in the bible? Joshua is worth addressing. Moses was not chosen by God to lead his people across the river into the promised land. Instead the mantle was place on Joshua, or Joshua. It is a name that simply means, "Yaweh saves", or "God saves." In the New Testament God fulfilled the prophecy of the Old by sending Jeshua, or in the Greek, "Jesus", to save his people. He leads them through death into life by the knowledge of Christ. Through Christ, the source of all goodness and power, God saves by his son Jesus. It is the movement of the Son across the imaginary lines of our soul that he traverses, guiding us into our eternal orbit.

We see the sign. It is written on our mind (sign of cross on head). It is written on our lips (sign of cross on mouth). And it is written on the tablets of our heart (sign of cross on chest). It was also the sign of the cross made by the priest on your head the moment you were baptized. It is the sign we have above the altar, high up in the loft our holy place of worship and Christ proceeds down to us, in the form of a man on the cross. Let your new year's resolution be one that uses the Lord's name at the end of every prayer, knowing it isn't lip service. Christians take his name not in vain. It is the name God gave to his son, in order to save us. From the mother's womb he travelled far to cross over into the land of our soul, rescuing us from unsurmountable odds. When surrounded and beaten down, God finds a way to get to us to lift us up and help us conquer the day. By bended knee, and by true confession, let us declare the Holy Name of Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

[1] Philippians 2:5-11
[2] Eusebius: Conversion of Constantine, Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1990), Vol I, 489-91
[3] Luke 2:15-21

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