Presentation of the Lord, Year A
Six Weeks without a Name?
Our son was born in London. I was shocked to learn he didn’t have to have to be registered, to be given an official name, until he was six weeks old. I knew people who tried out multiple names on their babies before filing the official paperwork forty-two days later. We registered Joseph a week after his birth, and could have done so before we left the hospital. To me, six weeks seemed a long time to flounder without a name.
Jewish parents dedicated their infant sons to God forty days after birth, at six weeks of age, a bit like the Christian tradition of infant baptism. Like the Jews of Jesus’s time, Christian parents who take part in this ritual promise to raise their children in the faith, they say a “yes” in their children’s place. At the time, parents also renew their own “yes” to God. Mary and Joseph were no different from any other new parents. On February 2, when Jesus was six weeks old, assuming He was actually born on December 25, they took their Son to the temple to be dedicated to God. The early Christians celebrated that day, February 2nd, as Candlemas.
I would guess that somewhere in the mists of history, the British tradition of registering births at six weeks of age originated in the celebration of Candlemas. At the dedication of their infant sons, Jewish parents made their children known to God, just like by filing the paperwork to register a birth, British parents make their children known to the government.
At my son’s birth, I didn’t grasp that whether we registered him immediately after his birth or on the forty-second day, at no time was Joseph nameless. The government might not have known him, but God did. Baptism, the Presentation in the Temple, and the registration of births in Britain are rituals, just rituals. They are an important part of life—they say something significant about who we are here on earth— but they are not the crux of our relationship with God. He knows us before we are born, whether any of the rituals happen or not.
God whispered as much to Simeon and Anna. Mary and Joseph might have crept into the temple, awed by its grandeur, and nervously stood in the back, their baby wrapped in swaddling clothes of the manger. Despite the enormity of their task, following through on their promise to dedicate Jesus to God, they may well have felt insignificant and unimportant. Simeon and Anna, though, knew them. At the sight of the baby, Simeon says to God, “my eyes have seen your salvation…a light… to the Gentiles and a glory to your people Israel…” (v.30-32).
Despite the familiar chronology of the Christmas story we all know, the Presentation in the Temple actually occurred before the magi made their way to Jesus. Simeon was actually the first to say that Jesus had come for “all people” (v.31), not just the Jews. Simeon and Anna knew Jesus (and His future) because God knew, as God knows all of us. We may try out different paths, or different names, but we each are as God made us to be. If we choose to try to be that person, then we too, like Simeon and Anna, will be able to recognize Jesus, even when His wrapping is not what we expect.