The Name of Jesus

My son is starting to say words (actually, to be realistic, babblings that sound a lot like words). There is the usual “mama” and “dada,” but I’m not totally sure he associates those words with the concepts yet. He will reliably say “cup” when he plays with his cups and “car” when he sees a car or looks at a book with cars in it (or trucks; at this point, they are the same to him).

My husband got him to say “Jesus” by putting pictures of Jesus all over the apartment and handing him holy cards (laminated, so they are indestructible!). One of the pictures of Jesus is in the bathroom, so when I’m done changing my son, I make sure he sees Jesus before he leaves the room. Now it’s a habit, so he will swing around and say hi to Jesus.

This is not to brag about my son (who am I kidding, of course it is!) but to say that all this repetition of the name of Jesus got me thinking about the name itself and what it should mean. Often, we use it as a swear word when we should be giving honor to the name. I pay more attention to the name now. This past Sunday, I was trying to be super focused on the times when the name would be said in the readings or the homily. It isn’t said a lot. Instead, we use Christ or Emmanuel or the Son of God or any number of other titles. I might have heard “Jesus” once or twice. Would we benefit more from hearing the name spoken in a positive way? I think so. It is a nice reminder.

…at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…

Philippians 2:10, NABRE

The Baby Jesus

Lately, I have been thinking about the baby Jesus. When I was younger (and by that, I mean only about a year ago), I imagined a tiny baby, looking as perfect as one of those Ashton-Drake dolls, wrapped up in a flawless swaddle, in a manger. Mary and Joseph are perfectly calm and nonchalant, as if in a nativity scene.

Like many things about the life of Christ, that was a completely idealized vision. We never think about the one-second-old baby Jesus looking gray and wrinkled, with an umbilical cord, covered in blood, wailing into the cold Bethlehem night. He is always perfect, like when a gorgeous blonde on a soap opera miraculously gives birth to a six-month-old.

We never think about Mary being exhausted from the birth or the constant feedings. She always appears angelic and serene. Yes, she was sinless, but she was still human. I can imagine that she felt much like any other new mother after one of those endless days in the first month or so: hungry and thirsty, totally exhausted, and wishing Joseph would hurry back from his trip to the market so she could have one minute to close her eyes.

Babies are hilarious little creatures. They make weird noises. They pop up in their crib to greet you at 3 in the morning, when any reasonable person would be asleep. They grab their feet and stick them in their mouth. They suddenly shriek with joy at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason. They fling food all over the place when eating. I’m sure the baby Jesus did all these things. He probably kept his Mother awake all night long when he was teething or had colic, but he must have kept her laughing, too.

Babies are also, quite frankly, disgusting. I’m not going to describe the bodily fluids or the incredible degree of literal crap one has to put up with as a parent. I’m sure you can imagine it (and you might have been there). Again, I’m sure the baby Jesus had his disgusting moments. True, he was God himself. But he was fully human and subject to all the nastiness of the human condition. It did not make him less holy, just like all those gross-out times don’t make regular babies any less lovable.

Maybe this Christmas, we should look closer at babies and be reminded that Jesus was once a baby, too. We might even be able to take that a step further and look at grown adult people, especially those who get on our nerves, and be reminded that Jesus was once a grown adult, walking among us, capable of feeling everything that we feel.

Advent Reflection Series #4

Where could you use simplicity in your life?

Usually, I try to keep things simple. I have a relatively new car with a lot of nice electronic features, but I don’t use any of them because they complicate things. If the car drives, it’s good enough. I don’t use any software beyond Microsoft Word while I’m writing because to learn it would be to make something that already works for me (a regular document) very complicated and therefore frustrating. At work, they’re trying to make us learn all these different editing software programs, and to be honest, I couldn’t care less because it makes my job more complicated. I don’t want to waste time checking behind the software to make sure it didn’t create errors.

But that’s not to say I couldn’t use even more simplicity. Right now I’m looking around the apartment, which is filled with baby stuff and Christmas stuff and writing stuff and books, and I’m getting overwhelmed because it’s a lot. Material things, as useful and as necessary as they are, tend to complicate, and I like as few of them as possible. If there are tons of things lying around, and my desk and counter and kitchen table and closet are cluttered, then my brain is cluttered too.

Too cluttered to fit God in.

I’ve always thought that God appeared to more people “back in the day” because their lives were simpler and they had more time, fewer “things,” and therefore more opportunity to encounter him. They could focus on God rather than figuring out the latest gadget or rushing to the store to buy a ton of Christmas presents that are ultimately unnecessary. Their minds were less cluttered. It’s almost the same way with people who have “simple” minds, like children. They are closer to God because their minds are uncomplicated by all the “stuff” in the world.

So as we get ready for Christmas, it might be better to take some time to de-clutter our minds… or de-clutter our spaces so we can de-clutter our minds. As one of the cards I got from a baby shower said, “Babies don’t take up mushroom.” Neither will the baby Jesus, so all we need is a little sliver of space. It might make all the difference.