Sue Monk Kidd's latest book, The Invention of Wings, is about a young slave, Hetty, and her mother, Charlotte, a seamstress who works for a wealthy family in Charleston. At the beginning of the book, Hetty explains that a family who owns a pregnant slave names the baby. However, when the mother looks at her child resting in a basket where slave babies rest while their mothers work, a name would come based on what the baby looked like, on what was happening in the world, or a personality trait the mother noted.
Hetty was given the basket name, "Handful", by her mother. As the story evolves, Handful is shown to be a strong-willed determined little girl who grew into her mother's perceptions of her character. Hetty is referred to as Handful throughout the book.
Most infants today don't rest in baskets, but in crib or little seats that rock electronically. Perhaps fathers and mothers today who watch their infants sleep or play get an idea of his or her personality and find a nickname to use reflecting what they see in the child. Sometimes nicknames stick and the child is called by this name rather than the given name.
When Jesus was born, we are told Mary laid him to rest in a manger, a container of straw for animals - not the most sanitary place for an infant. When the angel, Gabriel, came to tell Mary about her pregnancy, Gabriel also revealed he baby's God-given name, Jesus.
I wonder if Jesus also had a "basket name" or "manger name" given by Mary and Joseph as they watched him during those first few weeks of life?
Jesus came to be known by many names as his ministry evolved. Just like "Handful" described the per Godsonality of one of the main characters in Sue Monk Kidd's book, the names given Jesus by those who wrote the Bible identify his character as "Prince of Peace;" "Good Shepherd;" "Bread of Life." These names go deeply into Jesus' core and give us metaphorical ways to relate to God's son.
There are over two hundred names for Jesus listed in a recent Google search including the following:
-- Lamb of God
-- Holy Child
-- Alpha and Omega
-- Blessed of God
-- Bright and Morning Star
"Bread of Life" is my "basket" or "manger" name for Jesus. For decades, baking biscuits has been one of my favorite activities. When our kitchen table was full with two little girls, I made a batch of biscuits twice a week to accommodate the appetites of our family. Bringing biscuits to others, something I like to do, conveys the love of Jesus and represents the name of Jesus to which I connect.
Sometime during this holiday season, you will see a nativity set in someone's front yard, at church, in a store or in your home. Pause for a moment and if you can find a small set, hold in your hand the figure of Jesus resting in a manger.
--- What name of Jesus from the list above do you connect with most?
--- Why does that name have meaning for you?
--- How can spending time reflecting on this name deepen your experience of Christmas?
As you hold Jesus, what "manger name do you give him? What story is behind the name?
Prayer: Jesus, you came to this world and were placed in a manger. The "bread of life" rested in a food bed for animals. However you come to us in the name we call you, we hold you dear as you hold us close always from our "basket days" to our endings. Amen.