A reflection on the readings for Christmas I/Holy Name by the Rev. Camille Hegg
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21
Names are important. In many ways they characterize and define those bearing them. Nicknames sometimes come about because they fit better than the name given at birth and pronounced at baptism, in Jewish celebrations or other rituals of all cultures.
I am one of many women who have gone through a process of whether to change my last name at marriage. I know someone who, when she went through a divorce, decided to name herself something completely different from her birth or marriage names. She took the first names of her two sons, played with spellings, sounds and rhythms, and came up with a new last name. Immediately after the court case, she legally changed her name.
I think of pets and the various names in our family and with friends. I had some friends who had a fun sense of humor. Their black and white dog they did not name Spot. They chose Stain. Stain was a great dog, and the coloring of Stain was more like stains than merely spots.
January. 1, New Year’s Day is the celebration of The Holy Name of Jesus. Luke says Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for the naming of the baby. This was a vital part of Hebrew culture. A liturgy that was enacted by Jewish couples over and over. His name was to be Jesus, as the angel had told Mary with the annunciation and as Joseph had also been told. Mary and Joseph did not name this child; the naming was part of God plan of salvation. Mary and Joseph took their places in this plan by doing as they had been told. Going to the Temple for the naming of the baby fulfilled Mosaic law and reminds us that we, too, are children of God.
Naming is only part of rearing a baby. Apparently Mary and Joseph took their roles seriously. Look how he turned out as an adult. Joseph taught him his trade; both taught and modeled compassion and generosity. He fulfilled the attributes of the one who would come. His mother was in his life from before his birth and through his ministry. She was with him through the trial and his murder and was there at the grave. Her penchant for pondering perhaps enabled Jesus to ponder and pray. It was probably this pondering and praying that led him to understand that the laws of the Sabbath were meant for humans. That was why he could break the law and heal on the Sabbath, for instance.
His name is significant; the rearing is invaluable; the faith in God came to fruition in him. Hre was all that scripture prophesied: Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God saves, Christ, intecessor, friend and more.
Names are important. There is a beautiful African folk tale written down and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. For Africans in this book Turtle is a very special God like character. Turtle goes under the sea, on the land. Turtle makes it his business to know the names of all the people in the village. They have a naming ceremony at the time children can learn to say their names. They all go to the sea and the child tells the village, teaches, the village her or his name. After the naming ceremony the child can go outside alone because….everyone knows the child, the parents and grandparents and where he or she lives.
In this story the boy becomes very discouraged because he has such a long name. His Granny teaches him, very patiently and it does take a long time. She always encourages him to keep trying, reminding him that he does have a long name, but it is not the longest name.
After his beach name dance, he goes out but no one wants to say his name. They tease him, refuse to learn it. The animals can’t say it. So, he goes to the beach and is sitting on the sand putting his hands and feet in the water. Turtle swims up on the beach and says the boy’s name. The boy is ecstatic that someone knows his name. He asks how Turtle knows and Turtle says,
“I learn names from the beach name dances;
I remember them well because I take no chances.
I swim up and listen, you don’t see me.
Then I spell your name in shells at the bottom of the sea.”
The boy’s name is Upsilimana Tumpalerado. And the one with the longest name, he learns, is Granny. She is delighted when Turtle knows her name: Mapaseedo Jackalindy Eye Pie Tackarindy. The boy is astonished that Granny has another name besides Granny, but she tells him to call her Granny. And she tells him, that from then on, she is going to call him Son.
There is something so important about names, knowing and remembering them. The Feast of the Holy Name reminds us of that.
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