Here we are a week after Christmas. I suspect mince pies and Christmas cake have lost their shine right now. And biscuits. And turkey. Maybe even chocolate!
Yet we are still journeying through the Christmas story. And we are still thinking of the nativity and its scenes.
In Bethlehem, the world’s most earth-shattering event has happened. Silently, a wondrous gift was given… a gift that meets all the hopes and fears of all the years. There was no fanfare. No trumpets. Mortals sleep. The silent stars go by. And a King of an eternal Kingdom is born. The baby – God’s son – lies asleep in a manger as the shepherds come to visit him.
A young mother is treasuring all these things, and pondering them in her heart.
When he is eight days old, she takes the child to be circumcised.
And gives him the name Jesus.
The birth of a child is a time of awe and wonder. And tiredness and practicalities. There are sleepless nights, hungry wails, projectile vomit, and constant nappy changes. As it is for the parents of Jack and Georgina. I suspect it was no different for Mary and Joseph. I am not convinced about “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”! And to make things worse there was no extended family or help with the new-born. The stable had no cot, no beds, no facilities to make things easier.
The birth of a child is also a time for reflection and pondering. As it was for Mary.
Our gospel reading tells us that she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.
There was so much she could not understand or foresee. Perhaps she pondered how her Son could save his people? Or how the prophecies of the Messiah would be fulfilled. She may have pondered what the Angel said to her nine months earlier. She may have even wondered if her son would be powerful and mighty when he grew up.
I am sure that the parents today will ponder the futures of their children as they bring them for baptism.
Parents often dream of their children’s futures. Children soon dream of their own futures. As the little girl in the song Que Será Será asks, “Will I be pretty, will I be rich…?” And the reply is “the future’s not ours to see….”
When I was a little girl I wanted to be a vet because I was crazy about animals. My mum tried to influence me to become a doctor. At Christmas’ I got playthings related to being a doctor… toy stethoscopes and syringes. After a stay in hospital I decided I wanted to be a nurse, because the uniform was nice, and I liked the cap. However, it was not to be. Many years later, I discovered I was terrified of injection needles and realised that I could never have been a doctor, a nurse or a vet. Instead, I studied English literature, taught for a while, married a man from Northern Ireland, and was ordained. And here I am.
Children have a habit of carving out their own life journeys. Sometimes contrary to parents dreams. And God has a habit of taking people to places they do not expect to be, contrary to their own dreams. The future is not ours to see. But we are all on a journey of faith with God. The same journey that Georgina and Jack will begin today.
In our gospel story we read about a ritual for the baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph take their baby for the ritual of circumcision. This marked a baby as belonging to the people of God.
And so it is today as the children are brought for baptism and welcomed as members of God’s church. Their baptism is a sign of new birth – a birth into the Kingdom of God. And we welcome them into the community of God’s people as they begin a journey of faith. It will be an exciting journey, one of transformation, growing and becoming the people God wants them to be. And as a church community it is wonderful to look forward in hope as to what God can do with their lives and who they might become in his Kingdom.
The gospel reading also tells us of the naming of Jesus.
Children begin their journey of life with names they are given and later make their own. But what’s in a name? Names are important and I suspect the families of the two babies will be able to tell you why they have chosen their names.
A writer called Mavis Humes describes our names as part of us – as our own skin. Something that travels with us like a passport, testifying to our unique presence on this earth. Our given names reflect the likes, or hopes and dreams of our parents and family, our culture. Eventually they reflect our own sense of self. Our surname often carries our ancestral history.
Bible names name sometimes foreshadowed the destiny of the child. As Jesus’ name does. It meant “God will save.” “Jesus” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Yeshua, or Joshua. A name given to many other boys of the time. The difference was they were named looking backwards – to the Joshua who saved the Children of Israel by leading them into the promised land.
But the name given by the Angel to Mary’s son was looking forward – he would save his people from their sins and lead them into the Kingdom of God.
We miss the magnitude and significance of the naming of Jesus. The God whose name was so holy it would not be uttered by the Jews, was given a human name. The eternal God, now time bound, takes an ordinary human name that will someday be the Name above all Names. A name that transforms the world.
And so, today, we remember Jesus’ birth, his circumcision, and naming. We also remember Mary’s ponderings as a mother, as she thought about her Son.
At Christmas we confront one of the most important questions of all. Who really was this baby Jesus? Is he really God’s Son? Do we really believe that?
The epistle reading from Galatians, printed in our pew sheets, describes Christ’s coming this way: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” Why? … “In order to redeem us, and adopt us as children of God.”
This is the meaning of Christmas. We celebrate the coming of God to earth to bear a human name and bring us redemption so that we might be God’s children through all eternity.
We are all on the journey of faith that we begin at baptism. The future may not be known but wherever the journey takes Jack and Georgina – and us – God is present with us. It is never “Que Será Será… what will be will be;” for we know that with God, it is always well with our souls. This is a journey of faith, where our unique names and personalities are used by God in his Kingdom for the wellbeing of our world.