I remember finding the baby name book that my parents used when they were trying to decide what our names would be. It was, to me, a little like finding the "I Ching" or a pack of Tarot cards, like peering, ever so slightly, into my parents' brains. Why did my parents give me the names that they gave me, my sister and my brother? We aren't named after anybody else in our families. There are no other Dianes, Janets, or Davids in my family. When grilled about it, the only response my mother could come up with was, "We just liked those names." No deep mysterious reasons.
Perhaps, I thought, it had a little to do with the fact that the Lennon sisters were popular on one of my parents' favorite television shows, Lawrence Welk. Two of the four sisters were named Diane and Janet. Couldn't that be a little suspicious?
Later on, I discovered that my name was of latin origin, that there was a goddess Diana, the goddess of the moon, and of the hunt. She was the twin sister of Apollo (in Greek, her name was Artemis). I really enjoyed learning about the goddess Diana, although I felt much more ordinary, less lunar, with no hunting instincts that I could put my finger on.
Names are important. In some mysterious way, our names tell us who we are, but in other ways, they do not. We remain a mystery: to one another, even to ourselves, sometimes. Don't we? Maybe that's why, as a child, I was so interested in my name. I was a mystery to myself, and I was trying to figure it out. Perhaps the name was a clue.
So Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple when he is 8 days old. There he is circumsized, and there he receives his name, the name the angel gave him. His name tells us who he is in some ways, but not in others. Jesus is a form of the name "Joshua", and his name means "the Lord rescues". That is a clue, but it is really just scraping the surface of the mystery of who Jesus is.
So Sunday, January 1st is called "the Name of Jesus." It is an odd thing to celebrate, in a way. Everyone has to have a name. And what Mary and Joseph do is what every parent does: they bring Jesus to the temple at the time designated by their faith tradition, and they give him a name. Jesus. An ordinary name, but the name that will someday before every other name, according to Paul. It is a mystery. Jesus. The Lord rescues.
It's not just the meaning of the name, though -- it's more than that -- it's that now, somehow, his life and our lives are inextricably linked, and we know ourselves better in the mystery of his life, and in the mystery of his name. I suspect that we'll never get to the bottom of who he is, any more than we will get to the bottom of who we are.
All we can do is hold him, and let him hold us.