On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. Luke 2:21 (NIV)
Of the four Gospels, only Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ birth, and only Luke includes both the naming of Jesus and his circumcision. For Luke, it was important that Jesus was accepted as the Messiah, the one whom Isaiah had prophesied about, and that would have required Jesus to have been involved in the obligatory Jewish religious traditions and rituals, including circumcision.
Luke’s version of the angelic pronouncement is what we know as the Annunciation, with the angel Gabriel speaking directly to Mary about the child she will soon be carrying and telling her what she is to name him. Not only was this baby to be given a certain name, Luke emphasises that Jesus had been given his name even before he had been conceived.
It is easy to overlook the extraordinary nature of Luke’s statement, implying God’s pre-knowledge of Jesus and the role he would assume (the name Jesus translated literally means ‘the Lord saves’). Most of us will have read the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and accept that, as one of the Persons of the God we worship as the Holy Trinity, Jesus would have been ‘known’ before he began his life as one of us: God would, of course, know another part of the eternal God-self.
Our understanding of God may also lead us to the conclusion that we have always been known, that we, too, have been both known and ‘named’ before we were conceived. Think of the Psalmist’s meditations on an all-knowing God:
It was you who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother’s womb;
for all these mysteries I thank you:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works. Psalm 139: 13-14 (NJB)
I can think of no better way to start a New Year than with a fresh realization that we are wholly and deeply known to a loving God, and that, whatever our individual ‘name’ may be, our own unique and distinctive calling which we are continually discovering, if we are Christians, we also walk under the banner of the name of Jesus Christ.
None of us knows what 2012 will hold for us or for anyone else, and my prayer for us all is that we will be able to go forward with boldness and confidence, in the name of Christ:
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. From Saint Patrick’s Breastplate