The gospel of Luke has an account of Jesus’ infancy that the gospel of Matthew does not include. It branches from when Jesus was just born (perhaps) to some time before the arrival of the wise men. Or maybe Matthew left out this account, or Luke left out the flight to Egypt. The first of months of Jesus’ life are most often seen in hindsight to his later life. Jesus’ birth was significant at the time to only those who were there and witnessed it. The rest of us are dependent on the accounts that come down to us, passing through history, memory, and the oral tradition.
This passage from Luke takes up from just after the heavenly chorus, out on the hills and fields surrounding Bethlehem.
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:15-20)
I can imagine a young woman, who most probably according the the tradition of the time, was quite sheltered and had not experienced much of the wide world. She became pregnant without “knowing a man”. She delivered a child without any one with experience to help her. And she was sought out by many people, and much was made of her child. Pondering must have helped her take all this in and process it. As did the customs of the time.
“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Verse 21)
This passage from Luke is part of the 4 sets of scripture that comprise the Holy Name of Jesus Day. Those passages center in names, naming and being named, with Philippians 2: 11 the verse “ . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Names are important. If I may bring in a bit of contemporary culture, I am reminded of some of the books in the Harry Potter series, where Voldemort is called “he who shall not be named” – if I am quoting it correctly. The idea was, I think, that naming him gave him undue power and influence over the speaker, or called to mind the horrors that he had done and inflicted. But not naming him also gave him power – avoidance, fear, and awe. In the Jewish tradition the name of God is also not spelled out completely, the idea being that it is too sacred to be written out or said aloud. And yet Jesus called God “Abba Father” – a child’s name for the male parent.
We who espouse strong and deep belief in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are careful how, when, where, and why we use those names. Names are important. But just as important is to call on the Divine, giving the God-self the name that fits our needs and believe. Let us not avoid using the proper names of the Divine, nor neglecting to call on the Divine. Jesus came to earth for many reasons, and one of which was to fully define and fulfill the name of God. Selah!