Naming Rights

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.

— Luke 2:21 —

As you read this, odds are pretty good you could turn on your TV and find a football “bowl” game.  Odds are even better that the name of the “bowl” game will sound more like advertisement than entertainment (although the line is often hard to draw, isn’t it?).  Some of my favorites are the “Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Game,” the “Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Game” and the “Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Game.”  Kind of makes you hungry doesn’t it?

Naming is a big deal.  There’s a certain power that comes with a name.  Corporations know this, but so do we as Christians.

We’ve been naming hurricanes for quite some time, but apparently the powers-that-be have started naming winter storms as well.  A recent powerful storm that dropped more than a foot of snow on Minneapolis was named “Caesar.”  Other storms were named Brutus and Athena (one commentary wished that they would’ve named the first storm “Agrippa,” if for no other reason so that he could hear weather-forecasters say that “the Upper Central Plains were in the grip of Agrippa”).

Naming is a big deal.  There’s a certain control that comes with a name.  Name something and you’re one step closer to harnessing it’s power.  Weather-forecasters know this, but so do we as Christians.

One of the earliest stories in the Bible tells of God giving an earth creature named Adam the privilege of naming all the animals on the earth.  It reminds us as Christians that with privilege and power, we’re entrusted also with responsibility.

Then there’s the story from Luke, which many churches celebrate on New Year’s Day.  The story goes that eight days after Jesus was born (coinciding with Jewish laws of the time) Jesus was circumcised and named.  I guess it goes without saying that “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

It’s a simple little story that often goes unnoticed, but it’s quite a coincidence that the eighth day of Christmas is the first day of our New Year.  We might ask with more than a little trepidation what it means for us as Christians to remember the “name of Jesus” as a way of starting a new year.

Paul wrote to the early Christians in Philippi that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  This is right before Paul’s version of the Christmas story, “though [Christ Jesus] was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).

To our American ears it sounds nice and fine that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend”.  To the ears of a first century Jew living in the Roman Empire it meant heresy.  Or at least heretical to the Roman Empire – where everyone knew that it was “at the name of Caesar” that every knee should bend (if you wanted to keep your knee attached to your body, that is) and that every tongue should confess that “Caesar is Lord” (if you wanted to keep your tongue attached to your mouth, that is).

We as Christians aren’t always that good at following the recommendations of the empire though.  We know that there’s power in a name, that there’s power in a child who came to save and that this God-child whose name is Jesus entrusts us with responsibility to serve the least among us.  It’s a different way of living than we’ll learn from the TV as we watch the “Capital One Bowl Game” or hear about the latest Caesar of a storm that has us in its grip.  But as we begin a new year, we know as Christians that it is God’s grasp which holds us and it is love which holds real power.

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