January 3, 2023
Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus
“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male child that opens womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Lk 2:21-24)
Christmas Night came and went as silently as it did the first time, and we continue our celebration of the Christmas Season with simplicity of heart and humility of soul. What could have happened in the intervening 40 days between that fateful night and the scene that the greater part of today’s Gospel Reading presents for our contemplation?
For one thing, it does not seem likely that the Holy Family would have returned to Nazareth immediately. Joseph would not have subjected his young wife and the child to the rigors of that trip so soon, especially since they would have to return after 40 days for the Purification and Presentation rites at the Temple of Jerusalem. They must have stayed in Bethlehem, and it is there that the event narrated so briefly in today’s Gospel reading took place: the circumcision of our Lord and his naming as Jesus, a ritual that—according to the Mosaic Law—Joseph himself must have performed. The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord used to be celebrated on January 1, and it is still celebrated as such in the Orthodox Churches, in the Anglican Communion and in virtually all Lutheran Churches. However, it has been relegated to a simple Memorial on January 3 in the present liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, with January 1, instead, celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Let us reflect a little on the significance of this event.
Medieval and Renaissance theologians stressed that the circumcision of Jesus had traditionally been seen as the first time His blood was shed, drawing bountiful conclusions that can serve our own meditation. First is the demonstration of the fullness of His human nature: He bled as a man. Second was His obedience to Biblical Law: if disobedience was the cause of Original Sin, obedience is going to be its undoing. But most of all, that brief and painful rite—which must have elicited a goodly cry from the infant Jesus—drew attention to the suffering of Jesus as a foreshadowing of His Passion.
However, today’s Memorial focuses on the Holy Name of Jesus—the name that had been foretold by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, even before the Blessed Virgin Mary gave Her fiat, thus even before the Word became Flesh. What is so significant with this name? Joshua—Jesus in Hebrew—means Savior, and if a name can encapsulate the essence of a man, then that name indeed encapsulates the meaning of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made Man.
The Word became Flesh—Jesus Christ—to save us. A Spanish Christmas carol puts the following words in the lips of the Child Jesus: Yo baje a la tierra para padecer. “I came down to earth to suffer.” Blessed Alvaro del Portillo reflected that we men die because we are born, while Jesus Christ was born to die. The Creed expresses it more completely: Jesus Christ, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
As we approach the end of the Christmas Season, let us meditate on this reality that puts the mark of the Cross on this otherwise festive season. Let us not forget the price for our salvation. Let us not be afraid to call Our Lord by his Holy Name always, keeping in mind its full significance, as expressed by the Apostle to the Gentiles:
In the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father! (Phil 2:1)
On the day Christ was named, He shed His Blood as a prefigurement of His saving death on the cross. When we call out His Name, do we call out in trust? Do we use His name in vain?