Speaking to the Soul: The naming and circumcision of Jesus

From the Gospel of Luke

I have really enjoyed our family gatherings this year.  Hanging out with our children and grandchildren at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas, I’ve reveled in my connection to this motley band of humans.  I am a part of them as they are of me.

They have names by which they call me, names that describe something about me that they love.  But they don’t have my real  name.  Only God has that.  They have a story about me that, like all stories, is woven of interactions, observations, sympathetic understanding, conjecture, fear, love and hope.  They think it is all true, but they don’t know me like God knows me.  All the stories we tell about one another are only partial truths.

I wonder about Jesus’ family.  In Luke’s Gospel Mary and Joseph took a long journey to Bethlehem, and Mary gave birth to Jesus there.  I wonder who from Joseph’s family traveled with them?  Everyone who was of the house of David would have gone.  Maybe Joseph had brothers, parents or sons, all with spouses and children.  Maybe his uncles and cousins went, too.  Was Mary’s lineage of the house of David?  Did her relatives go to Bethlehem?

I imagine a big family, displaced to a stable a long distance from home.  They’ve set up cook fires and areas for people to sleep in.  The kids, Jesus’ cousins, wander together through the city, playing and exploring.  Older relatives strike out on their own or in small groups to visit the market place, the synagogues, other places of interest.  Do some of them band together to make a journey to nearby Jerusalem?  They come back and share their stories with one another.  In the midst of all this, the child comes into the world.

When it is Mary’s time to give birth, she has midwives from among the family that has traveled with her.  The baby is born into a clan that claims him as one of its own.  Stories begin the moment he draws his first breath.

“His cry is so strong.  He is going to be a big boy,” says one of the midwives.

“Look at those tiny fists and the tears in the corners of his scrunched up eyes.  I think he doesn’t want to be here very badly,” says a cousin.

“I think he loves his mama.  Look how he turns to her,” says his auntie.

“He is the spitting image of Joseph,” remarks a great uncle snidely.

Today we celebrate Jesus’ naming and circumcision.  He is accepted into his clan, and he becomes part of them.  They will generate stories about him that both reveal and obscure aspects of who he is.  Mary and Joseph call him Jesus, since that is what they have been instructed to do in dreams and by angels.  But his people will not really understand what that means.

Today we celebrate Jesus’ coming to a particular family at a specific time in history – being, in other words, fully incarnate.  This moment of naming and circumcision claims him and obscures him, just as we are claimed and obscured by our families and our cultures.

Let’s remember that we are like Jesus’ clan in that we have only a partial understanding of who Jesus is.  All the stories and legends, the assumptions and theologies – they are only part of the picture – necessary for sure, since anything incarnated is somewhat obscured.  But in this new year that begins today, let’s ask ourselves this.  What part of Jesus’ nature do the stories we have hide?  How might he be bigger and different than we have hitherto imagined?

Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO.  You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries

“Albrecht Dürer 018” by Albrecht Dürer –  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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