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]
Today we remember the naming of Jesus. January first gets this festival due to the Jewish custom of holding the naming ritual---and circumcision---of all boy infants the eighth day after they are born. The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel to make mention of this event.
A popular notion about naming is that it gives you power over whatever is named. Over people, yes, but also other things. I've heard more than once that a proper medical diagnosis, even if it is a difficult one, is a relief because it was no longer an unknown thing and it could now be treated.
It is this "power over" theory that is often used to explain why the Hebrew God was so cagey about being named. "What is your name?" Moses asks The Almighty. "I Am who I Am," is the only name Moses gets.
Children on playgrounds call each other mean names. Nicknames sometimes get used more often than a birth name. We accept or deny a name. We form our identity around our name or names. Even names we don't accept shape us.
Names give first impressions. I've known people who would not date people with certain names. Names that are from certain ethnic groups get passed over when employers scan job applications. Parents sometimes give daughters sexually ambiguous names so their resumes won't be judged based upon gender.
On this day we remember that the God who was cagey about giving a name received a name as well as the fleshly mark of the covenant given to Abraham. Circumcision and a name becomes another way that the humility of Christ is signified. The name of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, gained a reputation and a following. It made him recognizable to the sick who sought him out for healing and to the soldiers who arrested him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In receiving these human constructs, Jesus receives some of the most subtle and persistent consequences of being human. It's another way that we celebrate incarnation in this season.