Galatians 4. 4 – 7

Luke 2. 15 – 21

The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus

Fr Alex


I wonder what you think of your name.  It’s such an important part of who we are, isn’t it.  It’s the very first thing we reveal about ourselves when we meet a stranger – it’s the gateway to getting to know someone.

Natalie and I felt great responsibility in naming our children – choosing something that would be sweet as a little child, but also serve them throughout a hopefully long life.  Something modern celebrities in particular seem to fail at miserably, I have to say!

Names can conjure up great images and feelings.  Who can hear the name ‘Winston’ without thinking of Churchill, and all the sacrifice and striving of this nation through the Second World War.

On the other hand, the name ‘Hitler’ immediately brings to mind the darkness of what humans can do to one another.  And today, in our secular world, ‘Hitler’ has pretty much replaced ‘Satan’ as the expression of pure evil.  It’s a name to scare people with.

If you’ve read your Harry Potter, you’ll know that people struggle even to speak the name of the evil one, ‘Voldemort’ – they refer to him as ‘He who must not be named,’ or more snappily, ‘You know who’ – as if even speaking his name will bring something of his evil into yourself.  Other characters gasp and shudder when Harry speaks the name.

Names have power.  The name of God has been treated with such reverence over the millennia that no one’s actually sure how it’s supposed to be pronounced. 

The written Hebrew has no vowels; so we don’t know whether the name that God revealed in the burning bush in Exodus is said as ‘Yahweh,’ or ‘Jehovah’ – or indeed something completely different.

For the people of Israel, and for many Jewish people around the world today, God’s name is too holy to be spoken.  He is called ‘the Lord,’ or even simply ‘the Name.’

But at Christmas, God reveals his name again, and this time we are to speak it.  The child born in Bethlehem is named Jesus: ‘God saves.’

At the beginning of time God created, and the first man, Adam, gave things a name.  Now at this moment of new creation, God gives his Son, the new Adam, the name that is above every name.  He is given a name so that we might know him: just as deeply as God knows each one of us.

He is born in a particular place, in a particular time; he is “born of a woman, born under the law.”  This is scandalous to many – the idea that God should make himself so knowable in this way.  That he should submit himself to the law by being circumcised – we might even feel a bit awkward talking about such things publicly in church on a Sunday morning!

But this is the heart of our faith.  That God can be known.  That he isn’t some unfathomable being floating far above sight or comprehension.  But that he lives with us, within us, in the mess and muck of human existence – just as real now as he was 2000 years ago.

And he makes himself known to us as our father.  As St Paul wrote to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”

At our baptism we are given a name – by our parents, yes – but also by our heavenly Father, who knows us and names us as a precious child, and claims us for his own.

And because we are his children, we too are heirs to the promise of eternal life – given access to it through the work of this child of Bethlehem, our brother, Jesus: ‘God saves.’

Just yesterday Pope Benedict XVI died.  He had a particular devotion in his homilies and writings to the face and the name of Jesus.  He said this in a homily in 2010:

To give one’s name means to enter into relationship with another.  The revelation of the divine name, then, means that God … enters into the network of human relationships; that he comes out of himself and becomes one of us. …

This desire of God to be with his people comes to completion in the incarnation of the Son.  Here, what began at the burning bush is truly brought to completion: God, as a Man, is able to be called by us and he is close to us. … His love comes forth from himself and enters into our midst. …

At this hour joy and gratitude must fill us, because God has shown himself, because he, infinite and beyond the grasp of our reason, is the God who is close to us, who loves us, and whom we can know and love.

Let our resolution at the beginning of this new year be to rejoice in the name of Jesus.  To use it: to tell others that God saves; that he is close to us, and he is a God whom we can know and love. 

That all his promises are true, and there for the taking; if we claim the name that he has revealed to us at Christmas – the name by which we are saved.  Amen.