In the Christmas season that we are celebrating there are quite a few great feast days. This last Wednesday we celebrated the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. One of the ways this was promoted and spread was by using the inscription IHS to stand for Jesus. Looking up some things about this I found out that what was most prominent in my mind for what IHS stood for was actually wrong, at least in a way. I knew somewhere in there that it was letters denoting Jesus’s name, specifically the first three letters in the Greek name for Jesus, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ, but more dominant in my mind was the connection to “Jesus, Savior of men”, or “Jesus Hominum Salvator” in Latin. Reading a variety of sources on this, one source (Wikipedia – although they actually give some respectable references for this entry) refers to this interpretation as a backronym, that people worked backwards to explain what it meant, and didn’t exactly get it right.
In this case that can be kind of interesting since IHS may have originally been simply an abbreviation for the name Jesus, but if the actual context in which it was written the person who wrote it considered that they were expressing “Jesus, Savior of men”, then the second interpretation is actually correct even if it was founded on a mistake. But if we start using the second interpretation on something where it wasn’t meant that way we may be adding things that were not intended. Since we normally use this symbol (IHS) by itself that isn’t a great concern, it is reminding us of Jesus, or of Jesus, Savior of men, both are good things but is still a distinction to be aware of.
A similar difference can be considered for how we read Scripture at times. We might be struck by certain words or phrases in a passage, they might even lead us to an epiphany of sorts (the feast we celebrate today), but we need to be careful how we put that understanding in the rest of the passage, or chapter, or book. If it wasn’t meant that way we might get a wrong interpretation of the greater passage, forcing our will and desires on the reading instead of being open to God’s message to us. Like the IHS being read as “Jesus, Savior of men” is fine by itself, but if that is imposed in a passage where it is meant to simply say “Jesus” we might be emphasizing the divinity of Christ at a place where it is meant to show his humanity. Since I’m not usually reading Scripture in the original Hebrew or Greek this is always something to be aware of as we are struck by small passages, to recognize how they do fit in the entirety of Scripture.
While we still have another week of the Christmas season in the Church I realize that most of our lives have gone back to our regular daily schedules. Like the words and smaller passages in Scripture that might have inspired us for the moment, hopefully we realize they were also not meant to stand by themselves, but are meant to be a part of all of our lives. The real celebration of Christmas does not mean that we only remember Christ on that day, or week, but it only truly makes sense if Christ is to be a part of every one of our days.