Naming Jesus — January 1 — Mary the Mother of God

“When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Who named Jesus? In one sense, it was his parents; Mary his mother and Joseph his adoptive-father. Yet this name was not their own idea. At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel told Mary: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” And later on, an angel of God, likely Gabriel but perhaps another, told Joseph in a dream: “[Mary, your wife,] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So this name was communicated to Jesus’ parents, and both parents were instructed to name him so, but the idea of this name and the commands to bestow it did not originate with the angels.

The word “angel” comes from the Greek and Latin words for “messenger,” and the angel spirits are messengers of God. The Archangel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth to announce to Mary the plan and will of God. So who named Jesus? First and foremost, God. The Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians declares, “[God] bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth”.

And what does the name of Jesus mean? The name “Jesus” (or “Iēsous” in Greek) is “Yeshua” in Hebrew, which means “Yahweh helps,” or “God saves.” The name of Jesus, given him by his Heavenly Father, denotes the message and the mission of the Son, And this message and mission was given him by the Father. Jesus declares, “I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak,” and “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” The Father names his Son, and the Son is obedient to his Father’s authority.

Naming someone or something is to author its name, and authorship denotes authority over that person or thing. In the story of Creation, God creates and names the Day and the Night; the Sky, the Earth, and the Sea. Then the Lord forms man from the ground and settles him in the garden, with a mission to cultivate, protect, and care for it. Then God forms the animals from the ground, bringing each to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. Since none of these would be a suitable partner for the man the Lord formed another from the man’s rib, perhaps the bone closest to the core of man’s being, God’s last and ultimate creature. When the Lord brought her to the man, he rejoiced: “This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken,” and the man gave his wife the name “Eve.” God blessed them and said to them: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.

The man has sovereignty and dominion over the creatures he named. Parents, likewise, have authority over their children. As we heard last Sunday from the Book of Sirach, on the Feast of the Holy Family, “God sets a father in honor over his children; [and] a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” Both Joseph and Mary name Jesus on this eighth day after his birth and they exercise authority over the Child-God. “[Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” All legitimate authority (in a family, a workplace, a government, or the Church) is to be exercised in accord with God’s will. And when authority is exercised in this way, we can expect the household, business, nation, or Church to thrive—provided that legitimate, godly authority is likewise obeyed in accord with God’s will. ‘Jesus went down with Joseph and Mary, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.’

Who have you been entrusted with authority over? For whom has God given you a mission to cultivate, protect, and care for as their Christ-like servant-leader? Recognize your mission, and exercise your authority in accord with God’s will as a blessing for others. And realize that those with spiritual authority over others (as you may have in your household) can literally bless them. Usually when we say “God bless you,” (that is, when we say this to a peer) we are not really blessing them ourselves but desiring, hoping, wishing, praying that God might bless them. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Unquestionably, a lesser person is blessed by a greater.” When we have spiritual authority for someone we can personally speak blessings upon them.

Words can not only encourage, but they also seem to have metaphysical power. Our first reading recounts how Aaron and his sons as priests of Israel were given authority to bless God’s people. The Old Testament patriarchs blessed their children and we see their words fulfilled. God creates and Jesus works miracles through spoken words; God said “let there be light” and there was light. Jesus said to the paralytic your sins are forgiven; stand up, pick up your mat, and go home, and the man was healed inside and out. Your words of blessing, in accord with God’s authority, can have great power, too.

[After preaching this homily last night, a parishioner shared with me that she and her husband learned about blessing and claiming dominion your household from friends a decade ago. They notice a difference in their family in their years of marriage before and after. For example, when she begins to fell minor health issues coming on, she asks for her husband’s blessing, and reports that she can “feel the power of his prayers.”]

So husbands, bless your wives and children, mothers bless your children, and bless your grandchildren, too. And on this first day of the year, ask God our Father and Holy Mary, the Mother of God and our spiritual mother too, to bless you and yours in this new year ahead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: