Reflection for the Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ - 1st January 2021

From the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 2:

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.

Names are so very important, placing us in relationship to others, our family and our culture. We are given a name not of our choosing as an infant and may take new names later in life. We religious are not alone in using a new name to indicate a new stage in our life, a new belonging. For those living in countries where Christians are a persecuted minority, taking a Christian name on conversion to the faith of Christ can be a life-threatening decision.

Jesus was given his name by an angel, a name meaning “God saves”. It was not a family name but even so not uncommon in his Jewish culture. He was welcomed into the Jewish people by circumcision and the giving of his name, in a particular time and place. But his message of God’s saving love is for all people and his followers have taken it out beyond the Jewish world to welcome all who turn to him.

At this point on our journey through Christmastide we stand at the eve of the secular new year and I am wondering what this feast of the naming of Jesus gives us to offer to the wider world for the coming year? The word “welcome” keeps coming to me. The welcoming of each unique individual: human, animal, plant, mineral – allowing each to be what God calls them to be, showing respect to each one, giving them space. In that welcome we care for and nurture them, and as beings endowed with language we name them. Such a spirit of welcome would transform our war-torn and environmentally degraded world. It is an important step along the way of peace.

What might happen if people of all nations opened in welcome to one another? If migrants and refugees were welcomed? What if our industrial corporations could welcome and allow space for wild animals and plants and respect the physical integrity of the landscape? It would ask for big changes in our expectations in modern, technological cultures. We would have to let go our desire to control everything and be in charge. We would have to let go the demands for constant economic growth, more comfort, more stuff. But it would open the door to a very different way of life, a life of a very different kind of abundance, a flourishing for all beings, reflecting all those wonderful images we have been hearing from the prophets through Advent.

How could such a big change happen? It has to start in small ways as each one of us opens our hearts in welcome to others in whatever situation we find ourselves. And I believe it has to be grounded in knowing that we ourselves are welcomed by God, called by name into the body of Christ. As we become more secure in our grounding in Christ, in a loving, welcoming Christian community, we can let go the fears that can turn us against the needs of others. In this community we have the opportunity to embody that welcome in the way we live together, being open to the different ways God is working in the lives of each of our sisters.

In the coming months we will have a number of alongsiders arriving - each bringing her own way of being, formed by her family background, culture and life journey. We need to have spacious hearts to welcome the unique unfolding of God’s call in each one’s life. Whether or not she stays long-term I pray that our welcome for each woman who comes will be transformative and healing for her.

With the pandemic still raging around us we don’t know what challenges this new year will hold for us, our nation and our world. But let us listen for the voice of the good shepherd who calls each one of us by name, and rejoicing in his welcome let his love flow through us in welcome to others - all whom we meet and all for whom we pray.

Mother Anne - 1st January 2021