Getting to the heart of the theology of the Incarnation ... with the help of a 6-year-old.
As Sisters of Life, we specialize in helping with baby names. Once a few years back, as we sat around with cookies and tea with one woman, a Sister tried to offer all kinds of suggestions for names for her baby boy
“… and there are also the prophets … like, Isaiah, Jeremiah …”
“Wait, that’s it!”
“Oh, which one?”
“Prophet! His name will be Prophet!”
Names matter. Years ago in one of our older newsletters, we featured an interview we had with a few 4- to 8-year-old kids. We popped the question, What is love? One kid said, “It’s when you give someone some of your French fries without expecting them to give you any of theirs.” Now, that’s a deep sacrifice when you’re 8 (and even when you’re 30!). Another kid said that he saw love when he saw his grandfather paint his grandmother’s nails when she couldn’t do it anymore because of her arthritis. My favorite response came from a very wise 6-year-old: Love is when your name “feels safe in someone’s mouth.”
Love is when your name “feels safe in someone’s mouth.”
When your name feels safe in someone’s mouth. When we know we’re loved by someone, we feel safe when they say our name, as in, we ourselves feel safe with them. That points to a deeper reality — that we share our names to make ourselves accessible to another person. We consent to being known. It’s why naturally we don’t share our full name with someone we don’t trust.
Advent is not the only time to consider the wonders of the Incarnation. God made Himself accessible to us by entering into our humanity, and even taking on a human name, Jesus, God Saves, which He has revealed to us. Honestly, we take it a little for granted, because it’s all we’ve ever known. But if you look through the Old Testament, they couldn’t call God by His name, as it was far too sacred. And certainly, our forefathers would have never dreamed that God Himself would take on our frail human flesh—an intimacy that’s practically scandalous.
What does this really mean for us?
First, the fact that His human name is proclaimed teaches us that with the Incarnation came a new intimacy, and a name, a heart, that could belong to us. He gave us His name, not just because He consented to being known by us, but because He longed to be known by us. And so that we could have complete, unconditional access to the Father’s heart, through Jesus, the revelation of His love. And He gave us His name, precisely so that we could call on Him freely, constantly, with the intimacy of a Father.
As we are reminded in Gaudium et Spes,
For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin. (Paragraph 22, emphasis mine).
He not only forever united Himself to our human flesh and our human experience when He became man, He forever united Himself to me—my flesh, my human experience. He reaches to our darkest depths, and places His divinity there. And as we walk through our imperfect world, we have the promise of finding the mysteries of His life on earth lived in ours.
Second, He revealed His name precisely because He wants us to call on Him: Jesus, God-saves.
His Name is His mission
To say His name is to come into contact with the living God, and let Him be who He is and save us, for His Name is His mission. He has cometo bind our broken hearts. To shatter whatever chains bind us from living freely in His love as sons and daughters of the Father. To proclaim that in His name, freedom from sin is ours.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in His sermon on the Holy Name, says,
Nothing so retrains the violence of anger, eases the swellings of pride, heals the wounds of spite…and puts to flight the craving for whatever is unbecoming. Since when I name the Name of Jesus, I place before my mind a Man, who is meek and humble of heart, kindly, calm, chaste, merciful, and conspicuous in every virtue and grace … Who heals me by His example, and strengthens me by His aid. All this speaks to me, when I speak the Name of Jesus.
In our daily life, when we encounter our roughest battles with others and ourselves, we have the promise of His aid and power at work in us when we offer the shortest prayer possible: Jesus.