Earlier this month we celebrated the New Year. January 1st on some church calendars is also the feast of The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This celebration occurs on the eighth day after the birth of Jesus and is a reminder of the time when Jesus was named and circumcised. He was "called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21) Under the Law of Moses all male infants were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. It was also customary at this time for family and friends to witness the naming of the child.

In our Christian practice, we name children at their baptisms. They have already been given a legal name on their birth certificates, but it has been a tradition for the person performing the baptism to ask the parents to name the child. In a sense, this is giving the child his or her Christian name.

Names are certainly important. For the most part, we feel warmth when addressed by name. Children, of course, know that they have done something naughty when mother addresses them by first, second, and last names rather than by a nickname or name of affection. Not having a middle name I only had to worry about the tone of my mother's voice.

Business seems to know that most people like to be called by name. I'm still a bit old fashioned, however, and not comfortable when a solicitation caller, who doesn't know me from Adam, asks, "How are things going, Geoff?" I'm not amused when my name is used to sell me something I don't want.

But a name is important. The name Jesus means "anointed one." Like anointed kings and anointed priests, Jesus was understood to have been given special powers and functions by God. Early Christians understood Jesus to be the chosen Messiah to bring healing and hope to the people of God. He is still revered in this way.

A name also tells us that we are important, not only with family and friends but as a child of God. We may know a couple of Al Smith's and Jim Johnson's in this community, but each one is a unique child of God. Even when we see an overflow of people at Wal-Mart they are more than a crowd. They are individuals -- each one important.

Titles with names can give identity to one's profession. The Reverend lets people know that the person is a minister. My last name is not particularly helpful to my sons, however, who are both physicians. Dr. Butcher doesn't really give one confidence if you are the recipient of their care, especially in emergency medicine. The older son is a pathologist, so one might expect him to be a butcher when performing autopsies. My mother's cardiologist's name was Dr. Croak. That name doesn't instill confidence of survival under his care, but he was a good physician.

Even though there are some funny names it is important to recognize and respect the identity of each person. Our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being is more than respecting humanity. It is a challenge to us to see the Christ spirit within each person, to see that person as God sees each one, and to look for the anointed within our neighbor whether or not one is signed and seal at baptism. God's love extends to all people. It is as if each grain of sand on the beach had a name. Impossible? Yes, but true when the analogy is applied to persons.

What a good way this is to start a new year with an appreciation for one another -- each one a child of God with a name, beloved for eternity.