Luke the evangelist continues his telling of the Christmas story, saying, “Eight days later,” after Mary had given birth to her son, in accord with Jewish custom, “it was time to circumcise the child,” thus to bear on his body the mark, the outward, visible sign of God’s ancient covenant with Abraham, “and he was called Jesus”, his name, being the outward, hearable sound of his life’s purpose. Jesus, the Greek form of the Hebrew, Joshua and of the Aramaic, Jeshua, meaning, “God is salvation” or simply, “God saves.”
Reflecting on this story, I enter 2015 reaffirming that I belong to the God I see and know in the life of Jesus. A life, as I read his-story, of compassion for the afflicted and of challenge to the comfortable to act on behalf of the marginalized and disenfranchised. A life I am bidden not so much to worship, revering with awe, however earnest, but rather to follow, to continue. A life, as Jesus was, I, in his name, am called to live in this world.
I reflect, too, on my church’s practice of baptism. In the ritual, only the first name of the baptismal candidate (never the surname of the earthly birth family) is spoken. The reason? (Historically, so well known that it went without saying; but now, for so long, not often said, it is not well known.) In baptism is given a new surname of a universal spiritual family: Christian. In baptism, one is christened; literally named for Christ, even more, named to be as Christ in the world. The Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant, which I personalize here, expresses what this looks like: Will (I) seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving (my) neighbor as (my)self? Will (I) strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
In Luke’s continuation of the Christmas story (“…the child was circumcised and named Jesus”) I see a model for me in 2015 (or maybe, more truly, a model me for 2015!), which calls me to ask of myself…
Has my heart been circumcised? Have I been cut to the core of myself with a deepened awareness of the world’s need and the world of need always near me? If so, then what is my name? By what name am I called that proclaims my understanding of my purpose to care for those in need and to challenge the comfortable, even when, most uncomfortably, I must confront myself?
Baptized as an infant, I’ve borne the name “Christian” for most of my life; and given what it meant originally to be named as Christ to a life of service, it still sounds right to me. However, given the bigotry and brutality, the intolerance and malice perpetrated in Jesus’ name by countless folk beginning in the first century and continuing, the name Christian may not sound so right to all I am called to serve, for whom I am to strive for justice and peace, and whose dignity I am to respect; some of whom never will, can, or need be Christian or may be Christians with differing views of what constitutes truth.
This recognition almost gives me pause. Perhaps I need find a new or an additional, more relatable, easily translatable name with which to identify myself to the world. Or perhaps, simply, I will continue to try to be and to do love and justice like the radically, inclusively, unconditionally, sacrificially hospitable One I follow.