I would like to impress you with my Hebrew skills: Baruch hashem hamashiach Yeshua.
That's pretty much it. I took two weeks of Hebrew in seminary in 1977 before dropping the course...just two weeks.
Baruch hashem hamashiach Yeshua. That means "Blessed be the name of the Messiah Jesus." Some of his earliest followers would have said that. Today, January 1st, is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.
You may have heard it before, but we always have to remember that Jesus was not a Christian, and his name was not Jesus. Jewish law called for baby boys to be circumcised and named eight days after they were born. Mary and Joseph were observant Jews, and they obeyed this law. We celebrate his naming on January 1, eight days after Christmas.
Jesus was not a Christian, he was Jewish. And his name is not Jesus.
The name "Jesus" is the Latin translation of the Greek name for Jesus. But of course, Joseph and Mary did not speak Greek. They spoke a version of Hebrew called Aramaic. And the name of that baby born in the stable and visited by shepherds and wise men was, in his own language, Yeshua. It's the same name as "Joshua" in our Old Testament.
Luke the Evangelist wants us to know that this baby boy was a Jew, and he stayed a Jew. He remained faithful to the Jewish tradition all his life.
Of course, he did challenge his own tradition. He had arguments with religious leaders. Yeshua, Jesus, was many things, and among them, he was a prophet and a reformer. He wanted to shift the focus.
What is central in our religious tradition? What is at the heart of things? What is to be our focus? The religion of his time put holiness at the center...who is pure, who is not... who is righteous, who is not...who is in the fold, and who is an outsider.
Yeshua's teaching changes that focus. Holiness and purity are NOT at the center. Instead, compassion is the heart, the center, the focus.
One of my favorite old stories is perfect for New Years' Day, as we think about making resolutions for a new year.
Once upon a time, there was a man who owned a magic ring. This ring gave its owner wonderful gifts. Whoever owned this ring was given the gifts of compassion, generosity, kindness, and contentment.
Now, the owner of this ring had three sons. Each of his sons asked to inherit the ring. When the father was a very old man, he spoke privately to each of his three sons, one by one. He promised each son separately the magic ring. Well, how would that work out?
Without telling his sons, he went to the finest jeweler in all the land. He hired that jeweler to create two copies of the magic ring. The other two rings looked exactly like the original. But they were copies.
When the father died, each son got one of the rings. Very soon, of course, they discovered the other two rings. They did not know which was the original ring.
So, the three sons visited a wise old rabbi. They asked him to help them decide which ring was the magic one. The rabbi listened to their story. The rabbi studied each of the rings. They were exactly alike.
So the rabbi said, "We really do not have to decide. We will just watch your lives. When we see the gifts of compassion, generosity, kindness, and contentment in one of you, we will know which ring is the real one."
I love that story. It's a parable about religions. The rings represent the religious traditions of the world. When the members of a religion fail to show compassion, generosity, kindness, and contentment, it shows that their religion is not a gift of God.
Jesus was not a Christian, and his name was not Jesus. He was a Jew, and his name was Yeshua.
We claim to be his people, his followers. For that to be true, compassion must be central for us, as it was central for him.
You see, that's the Holy Name of the Game!