|The Naming of Jesus -- unknown|
or Philippians 2:5-11
January 1st has long been celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision, a commemoration of one of the three traditional birth rites that Jesus, as the child of a Jewish mother, naturally underwent. Interestingly, though many other feast days were abandoned by the churches that broke with Rome at the time of the Reformation, the Feast of the Circumcision was generally retained, notably by the Lutherans and the Anglicans. It remains a major feast of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In more recent liturgical Western practice, however, it has been conjoined with, and even been replaced by another birth rite – the Naming of Jesus – the title that is now used across the Anglican Communion.
In medieval times Christ’s circumcision was thought theologically significant because it marks the first time that his blood was shed. It thereby signified his true humanity, while at the same time pointing forward to his redemptive sacrifice in the blood of the Cross. It is harder to give an equally straightforward account of why the Feast of the Holy Name matters.
Yet the explanation is not so very far to seek. At birth each one of us is given a name, and normally this is the same name that we take to the grave. Our names do not describe us, and any ‘meaning’ they once had is quite coincidental. Yet it is by a name, not a biographical description, that we introduce ourselves to each other. The first step in getting to know me – who I am – is getting to know my name.
So too it is with ‘Jesus’. The name means ‘Savior’, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, and it is so widely regarded as ‘holy’ that only rarely is it used for anyone else. The Feast of the Holy Name can be thought of as subsuming all that Jesus did within the knowledge of who he was. It invites us both to encounter and to dwell upon the Person in whom all the events of Nativity, Baptism, Ministry, Crucifixion and Resurrection are united in a single story of salvation.