What’s in a Name?

“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.” Luke 2:21

Today, January 1st, is the Octave of Christmas. It has been eight days since we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, and we come to the biblical account of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple according to the Law. It is on this day that Jesus is circumcised, and he is given the name Jesus.

I think Mary and Joseph got off relatively easy because choosing a name for your baby is one of the hardest things I have ever done but, for Mary and Joseph, the Angel took care of the naming part for them.

My wife and I agonized over names. We made lists, checked out the meaning of names, looked to see if her initials would spell anything, and finally decided on a name. Again, this was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. We had the responsibility of giving this new life the name that she would carry with her for her entire life. That is an overwhelming responsibility.

There is also a religious significance to naming your child.

The Jewish Law required Mary and Joseph to present their son in the Temple on the eight-day. It was on this day that, for the first time, his name would be mentioned. In the Christian Baptism ceremony, there is a question asked of the parents are the very start of the ritual, “By what name will you call this child?” This harkens back to this requirement of the Law.

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, this is a separate ceremony that I officiated on several occasions. On the eighth day after the child is born, the priest comes to the family’s home. The priest makes the sign of the Cross on the child’s forehead, mouth, and chest and says the following prayer:

O Lord our God, we pray to you and beseech you let the light of your countenance shine upon your servant (here the name is mentioned for the first time) and let the cross of your only begotten Son be seal in his/her heart and in his/her thoughts, so as to escape the vanity of the world and every evil plot of the enemy and follow your commandments. And grant, O Lord, that your holy name shall remain indelible upon him/her, so that at the proper time he/she will be attached to your church and be perfected by the awesome mysteries of your Christ; so that having live in accordance with your commandments, and having kept the seal inviolate, he/she may achieve the blessedness of your chosen ones in your kingdom.

Through the grace and love for humanity of your only begotten Son with whom you are blessed, together with your all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Priest’s Service Book

It’s a very simple yet beautiful ceremony that acknowledges the name of the child for the first time and asks God’s blessing upon them.

There is a much older Celtic ritual for naming a child where the child is carried around the gathering and introduced, by name to the four directions. The ancestors of the child, those who have passed from this life to the next are called upon to bless the child especially the ancestor for whom the child is named for, if there is one.

Another simple yet beautiful ceremony.

Mary and Joseph fulfilled the law by bringing Jesus to Temple and giving him the name that the Angel had told them. The name is the name above all other names and given to the King of King’s. As we continue to celebrate this season of Christmas, like Mary let us ponder in our hearts all of the events of these days.

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Collect for the Holy Name of Our Lord

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