The Naming of Christ

1st January 2023

Reflection (readings follow on)

Today is the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ and New Year’s Day.  The first day of the first month is a logical day to begin the new year, but how is it that this day, of all days, is the first? Different cultures and groups celebrate the start of their new year on various different days. For the Israelites it was the first day of Nisan (ie sometime in March as that calendar is lunar). For the Chinese it is a day in late January or early February. Islam follows a lunar calendar and this year’s New Year will be in July. In the church the liturgical year starts on Advent Sunday in late November. The tax year starts on April 1st and the school year from some date in September. There is no one factor that determines New Year’s Day.

That the 1st of January is the Feast of the Naming  and Circumcision of Christ is, as the gospel records- and in line with custom – because it took place eight days after his birth. This naming and circumcising marked him out as an Israelite. What the gospel accounts lack is any indication as to the date when Jesus was born. For the first couple of centuries no one felt the need to affirm the date of Jesus’s birth – as with the feast days of saints, it was the date of death that was commemorated (usually a more certain date). The first recorded celebration of Christmas was in Rome on December 25, 336CE. This day may have been chosen as 25th December also coincided with the winter solstice – according to the calendar of the time. (Since then calendars have been refined and adjusted).  

Whilst in the Roman era, the new year started on 1st January this did not remained fixed for all time. In Angle Saxon England 25th December – the solstice – was most commonly observed as the beginning of the new year. Later under Norman influence, the new year began on 25th March – the spring equinox – and this was the custom until 1752, since when the new year has begun on 1st January. So in a curious roundabout way this Christian Feast of the Naming of Christ is the first day of the new year! 

Today’s readings celebrate the importance of naming and of new beginnings. The first begins with a blessing that God gives so that God’s people may be blessed, and in blessing them they are named Israelites. The name Israel was first given to Jacob after he had wrestled with God and the name means ‘one who struggles with God’. The name suggests a dynamic relationship between God and God’s people!

The Psalmist is overawed by the difference between God and all the wonder of God’s creation and the smallness, the lowliness, of humanity, and at the same time, the Psalmist is amazed that even babes and children know how to praise the name of God. There is something truly amazing about the relationship between on one hand God, and on the other, humanity. This amazing relationship unfolds even further in the words of Paul. God has not just named us as God’s people, God has adopted us, through the birth of God’s only begotten son, as children and heirs of God. It is no surprise then that the name given to Jesus – Yehoshua – means the Lord is Salvation. We are people called to struggle and to be saved!

So today we begin the year of our Lord 2023. May it be a year blessed with care and compassion and action to safeguard the future of all that God has created. 

Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm 8

1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What are human beings that you should be mindful of them? *
mortals that you should care for them?

6 You have made them but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn them with glory and honour;

7 You give them dominion over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under their feet:

8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Galatians 4:4-7

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 2:15-21

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 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.