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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Tuesday, December 28

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

“What's in a name?” Juliet asks in Act 2, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet. She concludes that names—family names, in particular—aren’t anything to be concerned about, saying, “That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet. / So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes.” 

In reality, though, names do matter. Names, older cultures realized, have power; to know the name of something or someone was to control that person or thing, or—and this was sometimes more important—to invite its presence. Consequently, when referring to a fierce animal, such as a bear, they would euphemistically call it “the brown one” rather than risk their safety by using its more specific name.

Knowing someone’s name also implies knowing that person’s identity. In the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” for instance, the cunning dwarf reacts with horror when he discovers that Rapunzel knows what he is called. This knowledge not only frees Rapunzel from the bad bargain she has made with the little man, but also leads to Rumpelstiltskin’s rage and subsequent death. As this story illustrates, a name can have incredible power.

Not surprisingly, then, in naming their infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph were doing more than deciding what to call their firstborn child. They were saying to God, in effect, “Yes, this is who he is and who he will become, the one you promised, the one the angel foretold.” 

Whether they truly understood it or not, they were confirming his identity as the incarnated Son of God. What better gift could parents give their child than this, the validation of who that child is in the eyes and mind of God.

O God who calls us each by name, help us as we become fully human as Jesus was, and give us joy in the process of growing into our own true selves.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2004.