You Shall Call His Name Jesus

Long before the Christ Child was born in the flesh in a humble cave outside Bethlehem, His Father had named him for us through His angels and prophets:

For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, RSV — other translations of the Bible are not as lyrical)

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus [that is, “God saves”]. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” (Luke 1:30-32)

…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Isaiah], saying, “Behold, the virgin shall be with Child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,” which is translated “God with us.” (Matthew 1:21-23, citing Isaiah 7:14)

The Circumcision

In the Jewish tradition, every male child is “marked in the flesh” as a son of Abraham — a keeper of the Lord’s covenant — and formally named on the eighth day after birth.

The Jewish ritual for circumcision is called a bris: the rabbi (Hebrew for “teacher,” as Jesus was called by His disciples!) removes the baby boy’s foreskin (a flap of skin that covers the head of the penis) with a small knife, as all his family witnesses his reception into the Jewish religious community. Most other male children born in America are circumcised at birth by a pediatrician, ostensibly for reasons of hygiene.

The Gospel tells us about the circumcision of Jesus Christ:

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)

The Church observes the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord on January 1st/14th, eight days after His Nativity. This feast celebrates God’s intention to perfectly fulfill the promise of the Law through His Son, and foretells the salvation of human flesh through the destruction of death by His bodily resurrection:

You Who are by nature God, did without change take human form, O most compassionate Lord, and in fulfilling the Law of Your own will did receive circumcision in the flesh, to banish hades and roll away the veil of our passions. Glory to Your goodness; glory to Your compassion; glory to Your condescension, O Word!
Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1)

In undergoing circumcision, the Lord of all has circumcised the sins of mortal men. On this day He gives salvation to the world. And the Hierarch Basil, the Creator’s light-bearer and Christ’s mystic, rejoices in the highest!*
Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 3)

*The Hierarch Basil is also commemorated on January 1st/14th! See “Celebrating the Feast of St. Basil the Great,” Orthodox Family Life, vol. 3, iss. 2 (Winter 1997-1998), pp.8-10, for more background and a recipe for Vasilopitta, a special bread made for the feast in the Greek tradition.

Some Things to Do

Listen to a CD or tape of Handel’s Messiah as a family during dinner one evening before the Nativity, and pay special attention to the names given to the coming Messiah. Discuss why the names are proclaimed so joyfully, and what they mean.

Hold a family “scavenger hunt” to see who can find and list the most names revealed for God — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Use your Bible and the troparia and kontakia for the eight tones (from the appendix of your Divine Liturgy book) as the “hunting ground.”

As a family, discuss how you and your spouse chose names for your children, and how you all decided on names for your pets.

Research the meaning of your own name(s), both in a “baby name” book (from the library or the grocery check-out line) and a compilation of the lives of the saints, e.g., The Prologue from Ochrid. Do you “fit” your name?

Attend the Divine Liturgy served for the Feast of the Circumcision, if your parish offers it. It’s a wonderful way to start out the secular New Year — partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, and praising His name! (Many parishes serve a Vesperal Liturgy on December 31st for this feast.)

by Nichola Toda Krause

© 1999-2000 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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