Day 7 to Day 8: Naming the Truth
One week. In the nativity story, Jesus is one week old.
We in the Church are still knee-deep in the Feast of Christmas, even though most of the rest of the world has moved onto after-Christmas sales and New Year’s Eve partying.
There are twelve days of Christmas, and we’re only on Day 7.
So today we celebrate the First Sunday of Christmas, and we have what I think are jarringly grand scriptures.
In Isaiah, we read phrases like, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
In Galatians, we hear, “But 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 then, of course, we have John’s Prologue. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
It’s all this sweeping cosmic theology, and in the case of Isaiah, seriously grand celebration.
It’s all very appropriate for examining the deep eternal meaning of Christmas and the world-changing implications of the Incarnation.
But I can tell you right now that it has precious little to do with what’s happening to the Holy Family at this moment.
Mary and Joseph have now had seven days to get the hang of parenting.
Any of you who have had children remember the early weeks and months of life with a newborn. Sleep is both a bizarre concept and a fond memory.
You are on a 4-hour rotating schedule of feedings, and you spend hours watching the baby breathe, terrified he might just suddenly stop for no reason.
Many new parents are shocked to learn that babies aren’t born knowing how to feed, and mothers don’t magically manifest knowledge of how to teach their babies how to feed just from having given birth.
There are all kinds of things to learn like how to swaddle and what the heck is going on with diapers and if you make a mistake, have you already traumatized the baby and she’ll spend the rest of her life in therapy because you had the water too cool the first time you bathed her?
But you likely underwent at least the first few days of this process in a hospital, with a lot of expert technical support.
Mary and Joseph were doing it in a stable, with all their family and friends days away in Nazareth.
So it was probably a seriously hard week.
People didn’t leave town in Bethlehem on December 26. They were there for the census, not for the birth of Jesus. So how likely was it that a room at the inn magically opened up?
Joseph was probably out hunting for a place to stay, leaving Mary to cope alone in a barn or a cave, or he decided to stay and help, guaranteeing they’d stay stuck in a barn or a cave.
What did they use as diapers?
Did Jesus have to give up his manger cradle so the owners of the livestock could put it to its actual purpose of feeding their animals?
At any rate, contrary to what Isaiah tells us today, no one was feeling like “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”
They were probably feeling like three-day-old roadkill, and that’s assuming Mary and Jesus were both recovering from the birth decently well.
What if the Son of God was colicky?
These are the kind of concerns that no one considered when these scriptures were chosen, which of course is further evidence (as if we needed it) that this lectionary was compiled by men.
So what do we do with this First Sunday of Christmas besides trying to offer some decent love and solidarity to the poor beleaguered Holy Family?
Well, once we get beyond imagining the challenging and possibly even slightly humorous practicalities, we have to focus on the fact that this is Day 7 of Jesus’ life.
And something major is going to happen on Day 8.
On the eighth day of a Jewish baby boy’s life, he is named by his father and circumcised.
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Name, when Jesus officially becomes Jesus and is marked as a member of his people. And this moment has profound implications both for Mary and Joseph, and for us.
Today, Day 7, is the last day Mary and Joseph have him to themselves.
It’s been an incredibly difficult week for them as they entered the School of Hard Knocks that is new parenthood, but most parents ride out some of that with the sheer joy and wonder of this new little life in their care.
But Mary and Joseph are very well aware that this child does not really belong to them fully.
Jesus belongs to Israel, and every moment between now and the end of his life will be one long, slow progression away from Mary and Joseph and out toward the world he has been called to save.
We see it in the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, and then as he begins his preaching and teaching, and finally he is snatched from them finally and forever in his arrest and execution by the state.
Mary and Joseph can’t hold onto him, and the further he gets away from them, the more exposed to harm he is.
He is their child.
Being the parents of any child will bring its share of grief, but the incredibly high stakes this family bears make Mary and Joseph’s burden of suffering unimaginable.
And it all starts tomorrow.
Because once Jesus is named, he is known before creation for who he is. There is nowhere to hide.
Some wonderful people will find out—for example, the Wise Men, who will arrive on January 6 to worship him.
But the forces of evil will find out at the same time as the forces of good, and at one week old, Jesus has no defense against the powers and principalities who seek his life.
By the time he is two years old, Herod has slaughtered hundreds of Jewish baby boys in an effort to kill the newborn Messiah, and the Holy Family has to flee to Egypt to escape.
So Jesus being named is as important as Jesus being born, and it raises the already incredibly high stakes on his little life.
But there is pure light in his naming as well as the danger it creates.
When Jesus is named before the world, it is a proclamation whose fullness is still being worked out even today.
Joseph says out loud that he is to be called Jesus, but the heavens ring out that he also is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
The naming of Jesus is the naming of Truth.
It is the naming of possibility.
It is the naming of healing and salvation and good news proclaimed to the poor.
It is the naming of the Year of the Lord’s Favor, the Peaceable Kingdom, the mighty being put down from their thrones and lowly being lifted up.
Along with naming the joy comes naming the cost.
The joy is the presence of Jesus among us, but the cost will be his life extinguished on the Cross.
But hidden in the wings, what Mary and Joseph and all Jesus’ enemies and all his friends on this seventh day of his life could never imagine, is that when Jesus was named, Resurrection was named as well, as the final truth that contains and transforms all things.
And it all begins tomorrow.
Today is the last day of the calendar year, and the last day of Mary and Joseph cherishing Jesus to themselves, unknown and unnamed, but loved with fierce devotion.
Tomorrow Jesus is named before the world, and a new year begins.
The forces of darkness gather, eager to strike at this fragile and beautiful child entrusted to us, but at last we have found words from John’s gospel today that help us to name the truth: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
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