All my soul desires

“All my soul desires”/ The Naming of Jesus

Vivian Lewin, Spiritual Director in the Diocese of Montreal

Each one of our four readings this morning spins around the name of God—God’s power and identity.  God’s name in this case means God’s own self.  So that when Jesus is born, comes in human flesh as Bertrand preached just a week ago this morning (1), this is also the answer to a collective desire that arose long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  It stretches back through the complicated and luminous history of the Jewish people.

“Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.” (2)

When I read those words in Isaiah yesterday morning, my mind naturally bounced to the sermon I will share with you today, the first day of our year as well as the Sunday when we observe the Naming of Jesus.

What struck me, perhaps because at the start of the year we are surrounded by many wise suggestions about ways we can amend our lives, is the simplicity of it.

“Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.”

Honestly, we desire so much more … don’t we?  If “only one thing is needful”(3) we might be hard-pressed to cross everything else off the list.  Just think: how many different exercise machines and diet plans and so much else is being dangled before us right now, programs to take on and products being offered for us to consume at the start of our calendar year.

“Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.”

The one-pointedness of this desire is itself something to desire… (if we can… and if we are dubious about this, follow Ignatius advice to be honest:  “if you cannot desire it, simply desire to desire it!” )

“Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.”

To name God is, first, to claim we can actually connect with the absolutely unknowable—and if this seems tricky, the Psalms are a good guide—and, second, even more daunting if you look at it from the outside—to connect ourselves with God’s activity in the present moment.

It might be useful, here, to consider that we could not even form the notion of desiring God, unless God were not already desiring us! So whatever feeling is stirring in us is already a response.

Our response might not look churchy or pious.  I honestly believe that wherever we are most alive, truly alive (and not just momentarily revved up … I’m sure you know the difference yourselves) we are touching in with our heart’s desire and connecting with God.

Isn’t that the Creator God described in Psalm 8, which we just read together?  “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!…”

And what is life with God like? First, as shown in Numbers, it’s a life of blessing and being blessed.

From the very beginning of their worship in the tent, we are told, Moses was instructed to tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people in God’s name.  Literally to “put God’s name on the Israelites, and I will bless them with mercy and peace, and with God’s enduring presence.”  God would be with them.   And we have the opportunity to bless in the name of God as well. How do we do this?  Jesus shows us exactly how. Wherever he went, he was SO present that people were transformed.  This is not some sort of hocus pocus, magic words and spells.  It was than a performance of any sort. It was in his humanity, literally in the flesh, that God showed us what even (or perhaps only) in our most frail selves we are capable of. We are invited, like the Nazarites described in Numbers, to become obedient … listening to the Word… so that we can… Godwilling… be the embodiment of that grace for others.

“Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.“

Luke is the only one of the four evangelists who mentions Jesus’ circumcision, one in a series of details where we see Mary and Joseph (and Jesus) living in their community as traditionally observant Jews. It is after all within Israel that the promise of the Messiah has been kept alive since the exile in Babylon.

Let me quote from Marie-Noëlle Thabut, a French commentator (but I’ll put her words into English). “And now, the name of the child already reveals its mystery: “Jesus” means “God saves” and if (unlike Matthew) Luke does not specify this etymology, he has, a few verses earlier, reported the angel’s phrase “A Saviour is born to you” (Lk 2:11). “ (4)

We would not know this name, however, unless Mary had been obedient.  She was the one to whom Gabriel had given the name, and… unlike the shepherds, who were exhilarated by their experience… Deborah expanded one shepherd’s point of view in her sermon on Christmas eve… (5). In contrast, Mary “kept all these events in mind and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19).

Thabut detects an echo here from another scripture passage, and wonders: Does Luke want to make a connection here with the vision of the son of man in the prophet Daniel? After his vision, Daniel confesses: “I kept these events in my heart” (Dan 7:28).  For Luke, this would be a way of pointing us towards the prodigious destiny of this infant. We know, first, that the book of Daniel was well known at the time of Jesus, and, second, that it announced a Messiah-King who would over all the enemies of Israel.

However, the world will soon see that in Jesus, God’s saving activity is of a different order entirely.  Just as God’s blessing is not always prosperity or perfect health, God arrives to be with us in the flesh, in our so-troubled world.

Thus we have as our second lesson this morning an amazing and very ancient hymn that Paul included in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, a passage that is always read on Passion Sunday (also, sometimes, today).

He exhorts his followers to literally “put on the mind of Christ,” when he writes: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Gk doulou—familiar to us as doula, a helper who sets all their own concerns aside to help another in the time of need), being born in human likeness…  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.. even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… “ (6) John 18:6.   It’s essential not to get caught into thinking that Jesus did this for the reward, that God’s favour was or is somehow a recompense.  This is not about an exchange in the way that we earthlings understand exchange.  That kind of mathematical calculation leaves no room at all for grace.  Jesus miraculous freedom shows a depth of love–mercy beyond what we can even imagine—being poured out, yes, on us, undeserving as we are.  And not just poured out! We are not just spectators or passive recipients. We are invited  —indeed, called—to participate in this transforming mystery. This is the full message of the Christmas season: This transcendent and transforming love has actually come so close that we can desire it. “God gave him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9).

“Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.”

Come the day, Lord.  Amen


The readings for this Sunday are:  Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8, Philippians 2:5-11, and Luke 2:15-21

  1. Isaiah 26:8 trans. Jerusalem Bible
  2. Christmas Day 2022. The sermon starts at about 26 min 20 sec.
  3. Luke 10:42, Jesus speaking to Martha who is “worried and upset about many things”
  4. Source:
  5. Christmas Eve 2022. The sermon starts at about 54 min 35 sec.
  6. Recall, if you will, what happened in John 18:6: when Jesus said “I am” the soldiers who had come to arrest him were thrown to the ground.

Illustration is a screengrab from BibleHub’s interlinear bible:

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