Name of Jesus, Luke 2:15-21, Galatians 4:4-7
And just like that, it was over.
Yes, Christmas lasts 12 days in the church. We have Christmas all the way through January 6th when we commemorate the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. However, the reality of our celebration of Christmas in this day and age is that it is over. It was over a week ago.
All the planning and preparing and shopping and decorating. All the parties and get togethers and celebrations and gifts. All the joy at seeing family and friends, the sadness at not seeing those we miss and the anxiety of broken relationships that are all the more vivid in the holidays. There is the great onrush of it all and then…. It is over. The visitors, both the heavenly host and not so heavenly guests, have all gone home. The Christmas carolers and shepherds alike have all returned to work. The gifts, both those in pretty paper and ribbons and that in the manger, have all been unwrapped. And just like that, it was over.
Throughout Advent we spend a lot of time looking at the prophecies of the Old Testament that foretold the birth of the Messiah and the amazing and dazzling things that happen surrounding the birth of Jesus. Angels singing over the rolling hills, a brilliant star with a tail as big as a kite, shepherds keeping the faithful night watch over their wooly sheep. At Epiphany we imagine the shining gold, the exotic smell of incense, mysterious travelers riding on camels who have searched high and low for this child.
What a special child this must be! What a special and holy night! Yay Christmas! Now, let’s move on.
It is so easy to be blinded by the specialness of this holy season. Much like being outside on a bright, sunny day, when we move away from the brightness we may be unable to see other less sparkly things that are very important. The night was special. The child is special. The Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World in all his blazing glory. But there is something more here too.
Today is called the Name of Jesus. We don’t often get to celebrate it or acknowledge it in worship since it falls on January 1st and it seems like a somewhat strange thing to celebrate. The name of Jesus? Names are quite symbolic in scripture and Jesus’ name, Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew, means God is Salvation. It was not an uncommon name for boys and it might be like naming your child Michael, which means he who is like God, yet there are tons of Michaels in the world.
In today’s gospel text, the writer of Luke gives us the tail end of what we consider the Christmas story, with the shepherds running to see the amazing, star-marked infant and then follows it up with the most ordinary sort of postscript. 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.
Apart from the angelic flashback, this is so ordinary. Every single Jewish boy was circumcised after eight days had passed. That’s just life. Ordinary life. After all the angels and singing and flash and mystical majesty, we hear that this child is pretty much like every other child of his culture. He wasn’t born circumcised, he wasn’t born with some special mark or, despite what the many paintings show, a gleaming golden halo. He was named after the heroic warrior who led the people into the promised land, and while that is definitely symbolic from our perspective, it was still just like many other Jewish boys. Ordinary. Ordinary life.
How do you name the Son of God? Like a human child.
And that’s the point. That’s the point we often miss amongst the shiny, mystical prophecy. The Son of God was human. The Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World, wrapped in the most ordinary package imaginable: a human flesh and blood baby boy.
Yes, the flash and celebration of Christmas is over but the truth is that God didn’t come to live in some kind of special holy bubble. God came to us to live a life just like ours with ordinary flesh and blood.
St Paul writes, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying Abba Father so you are no longer a slave but a child and if a child then also an heir through God.
Rather than waiting up in the high glory of heaven for us ordinary humans to climb our way to him, to be perfect enough to reach him, God came down to us. The Son of God was born in the same human way we all are born because he chose to come to us. We can never climb to heaven but God can and does climb down to us and brings heaven with him. God breaks into our ordinary world, not just on Christmas or other high holy days but our ordinary every day lives, and makes the ordinary holy.