The Gospel of Luke recounts the naming of Jesus at the time of his circumcision (Luke 2:21), as was the Jewish practice from then until now. The timing of the ritual, on the eighth day of a male infant’s life, is specified in both the book of Leviticus (12:3) and the book of Genesis (17:9-14). The latter explains that circumcision marks God’s covenant in the flesh of the community. Covenantal blessing forms a common theme across the readings for today, the eighth day after Christmas.
The First Reading
God Instructs the Priests in Blessing the Israelite Community
As part of the instruction that accompanied the construction of the Israelites’ worship tent in the wilderness, God told Moses the words the priests should speak to convey God’s blessing of the people. Naming the people as the people of God, these words continue today to convey blessing to God’s people in both the synagogue and the church.
Then God said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and to his sons: ‘You shall bless the community of Israel; say to them:
The Lord bless you and guard you.
The Lord smile brightly on you and act graciously to you.
The Lord turn toward you and set you at peace.’
So they will set my name on the community of Israel and I will bless them.”
Humanity’s Unique Place within Creation
This hymn of praise recognizes God’s creation of heavens and earth and thanks God for the glorious position granted to humankind, which is given responsibility for all that is in the sky, earth, and sea. The reference to God’s putting an end to “the enemy and avenger” is obscure. The psalm may be referring to God’s conquest of primordial forces of chaos or of the great sea-monsters that are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and in non-Israelite creation narratives.
- To the conductor, on the gittith, a psalm of David.
- Lord, our master, how glorious is your name throughout the earth,
for you have placed your splendor upon the heavens—
- from the mouths of children and nursing infants.
You established a refuge on account of your adversaries,
to put an end to the enemy and avenger.
- When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars that you set in place—
- what are humans that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you pay them any heed?
- For you made them to lack only a little from divine beings,
crowning them with honor and splendor.
- You gave them control over your handiwork;
you placed all things under their feet—
- all sheep and oxen,
and also beasts of the field,
- birds of the heavens and fish of the sea,
whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
- Lord, our master, how glorious is your name throughout the earth!
The Second Reading
No Longer a Slave, but an Heir
In a small segment of a longer discussion, the apostle Paul reminds the Galatians that God has adopted them as children. Henceforth, obligations that previously characterized their slavery to sin no longer apply to them.
When the time had fully come, God dispatched the Son, born of a woman, born subject to law, in order to redeem those who are subject to law; so we gain adoption. Because you are now related as children, God has sent the spirit of the Son into our hearts, calling out, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but family; being family, you are also an heir through God.
or Philippians 2:5-11
Jesus Receives the Name above All Others
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians ties Jesus’ name as “Lord” to God’s exalting of him. Israel has long acclaimed “the Lord” as God, and now all of creation joins in this by glorifying God.
Have this thinking be among you, which was also in the Anointed Jesus, who, since he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to exploit. Instead, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, by being in human likeness. And then, being found in human figure, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is greater than every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee would bow in heaven and upon the earth and under the earth, and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus the Anointed is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
The Shepherds’ Visit in Bethlehem
In Luke’s Gospel, prior to this reading, angels announce to shepherds that Jesus has been born. Luke now depicts the shepherds’ visit to Bethlehem to experience what they heard the angels announce. Luke underscores the truth of the announcement by using its exact words to describe what the shepherds found.
When the messengers went away from them to the heaven, the shepherds started to speak with one another: “Now let us go over to Bethlehem and see this announcement made real, which the Lord made known to us.” They hastened and located Mary and Joseph, and also the baby lying in the feed-trough. As they saw they made known the announcement spoken to them concerning this child. And all who heard marveled concerning what was spoken by the shepherds to them, but Mary safeguarded all these announcements together, turning them over in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they heard and saw—just as was spoken to them. When eight days were filled—the time to circumcise him—the child was given the name Jesus, which was given by the messenger before he was conceived in the womb.