Community of the Sisters of the Church

The Naming of Jesus

1 January 2007

Not so very long ago, a  couple expecting a baby were very much in the dark about whether “it” would be a girl or a boy, or indeed whether it would be one, two, or even more!...AND, SO... being prepared with a name for “it” wasn’t easy;  and  for some, of course, this choice is still  difficult....... so many names to choose from  ....will the baby itself be happy with the name as it grows up? .....what sort of damage will other people do the name by creating diminutives?  e.g. Poor Henry will get called Hen;  can’t have that; and what about Helen?  I like that name, but who wants to be called “Hell” for short?! (It has been known.) 

Then to consider what it’s initials will be.  My mother had firmly decided that if her first baby was a girl she would call her Wendy.  Then one night her husband was wakened by a sharp prod, and panicked - thinking the baby was on its way.  All his young wife wanted to say was “We can’t call her Wendy; her initials would be W. C.”  They hit on another.... no mean achievement, in our house, as even pets were hard to put names to, not least the dog who remained “Pup” until the day he died, at 16 years of age.                                                                                                                  

Among all Mary of Nazareth’s dilemmas and problems she was spared the difficulty of choosing a name for her child.  He was, by angelic decree, to be called Jesus. 

When I was in the Noviciate, Sister Joy read us a beautiful book, in the form of a novel,  about Jesus in his earthly, family life.  I especially loved the descriptions of his life in Nazareth.  When it pointed out the fact that the name Jesus was a derivative of Jeshua, or Joshua, and that it was a name often  given to Jewish boys, I felt a ripple of disappointment to learn that this name I had thought to be so special, was in fact a very common one at that time. ....  However, it’s meaning is of course of great signifiicance, being “He whose salvation is Yahweh”,  and this One,  whose birthday we’ve just celebrated, was to so live into His name, that it would become more special as time went on.  Later, the name Jesus was not used by Christians for their children, out of piety, nor by Jews... out of revulsion.  In modern times,  however, Jesus has been used at Baptisms for children, in Spain and  the Phillippines.

Our Sister Karina was always greatly intrigued by names  and I remember her saying in her innately humorous way “You could call a child Petrol” these days and it would be alright! 

New names come into being all the time, in many and varied ways, sometimes by accident, sometimes by design, and as Karina observed “There’s no law against it.” (At least not in our society.) 

I once met a Priest returning by ship to England from missionary service, in the 60’s, and he ruefully told me this little story to amuse,  though it rather worried me at the time.  A young couple without much English brought their baby for Baptism.  When he said “Name this child”, they replied very clearly, “Pindonshee”, and pointed ( he thought rather unnecessarily,) to the little one in his arms. He carried on, without hesitation, using what he took to be a local or ethnic name, “Pindonshee, I baptize you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” The parents looked bemused, then very distressed, and shook their heads, then he saw, too late, a piece of paper pinned to the babe’s garment, with something written on it.  It turned out to be an English name, perhaps one they’d recently heard of and liked but weren’t sure of remembering  at the moment when they were needed to say it.  Oh dear...... pinned on she...there it was, neatly pinned on, .....but too late; the deed was done.  I wonder how many little girls in succeeding generations have come to be called “Pindonshee” as a result of that mishap; it rolls off the tongue quite nicely, really. 

At the naming ceremony of Jesus, when He was 8 days old,  we remember that He was also circumcised....an acutely painful moment for the baby boy, and a moment of concern for the parents looking on.... but an unavoidable ritual for male Jews who wished to be marked out for God.  It’s been observed that this was the first shedding of our Saviour’s blood.  The procedure had a hygienic purpose, too, protecting the male child from a source of infection.  When I was about 8, I remember once witnessing the Doctor handling my little brother in a way I thought was very cruel and the fright on the little boy’s face at the sudden hurt he experienced really upset me deep inside, although it was over in a moment.  We never talked about it,  but I came to understand that the child was suffering from a small infection that worried my observant mother enough to take him to the doctor.  

All the earthy things of family life were shared by Jesus, and I can imagine his teacher calling,  “Jesus bar Joseph”, when he needed to get His attention..... Not till much later was He to be recognised as Jesus the Christ, and then by but a few. 

  .......Jesus.......  Never has a name been held more widely with such deep regard, and never has a name been more blasphemously misused. 

To honour the Name, perhaps we could ponder it now, quietly, deeply, savour it,  and while listening to it being sung by Susan.....enthrone it once more in our hearts. 

(Susan sings “His Name is as Ointment poured forth.”) 

Pause. 

Jesus.... a Name to bring healing;  a Name that empowers;  a name that brings cleansing;  a name by which we recognise our God as one of us.  In this Name we are marked out for God. 

Prayer to end: (Joyce Rupp; “Fresh Bread.”) 

Come to meet me, God of Life, reach in to the mystery of myself.  Take me into the heart of this new year and give me the confidence to journey freely, lovingly, with risk, wonder and laughter, whatever may befall,   and,  blessed by the Name of our Saviour,  be encouraged to grow into that new name which will one day be ours.  You are our destiny.  You are our way. In you we put our trust. Amen.   (Words in italics are mine.)

Sister Jennifer CSC