What's in a Name?
Do you remember how the Gospel ended on Christmas Eve? "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told unto them." The next verse is our text, "On the 8th day, when it was time to circumcise Him, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived." The holy night of our Savior's birth glistening with light is suddenly stained by the blood of Jesus. This is shocking, but what's shocking about a Jewish baby boy being circumcised on the 8th day? God had commanded it since Abraham's time. It's shocking because of whom this baby Boy is.
That's the real emphasis of this day the world calls New Year's and the Church has called, "The Circumcision and the Name of Jesus." Lutheran Worship came out in 1982 and dropped the part about the name of Jesus. The new Lutheran Service Book will again include it. Now truly the first time Jesus' blood is shed is significant to us. We're a Church that revels in Jesus' Blood. We're sprinkled with His Blood in Baptism. In Absolution, His Blood is applied over our sins. And we drink His Blood in Communion. Yet, if you don't know what the name of Jesus means, you don't really know how significant His shedding blood or His blood really is.
Follow the Holy Spirit's lead. In our one verse text, the circumcision is a subordinate clause. The giving of the name of Jesus is the main clause. To understand rightly the actions of Jesus, we don't only need to know what He does, but who He is. If you misunderstand who Jesus is, you're also mistaken about what Jesus does. The who and what are revealed in His name. A rose may still smell as sweet regardless of what name you call it, but the circumcision would not be sweet to us apart from the name of Jesus.
The angel Gabriel gave Jesus His name. He told Mary in Matthew 1:21, "You are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." Jesus is a compound word. The "Je" stands for Jehovah and the "sus" stands for saves. Here in a nutshell is the person and work of God the Son. Here in a nutshell is who Jesus is and what He does.
Who Jesus is, is Jehovah. This is the bombshell John dropped for us on Christmas Day. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Those of you reading your Bible through this year probably start in Genesis. Every time you read the word LORD and your Bible has it in all caps, that's the name Jehovah. So when you read that Adam and Eve heard the sound of the LORD walking in Eden, know they heard Jehovah. It's Jehovah who appeared to Abraham at Mamre, Moses on Sinai, and spoke to Elijah in a still small voice at Horeb. Jesus is Jehovah having taken on flesh and blood permanently.
Christmas is the celebration of Jehovah fulfilling His promise to come and save His people Himself. In Ezekiel 34, Jehovah promised that He Himself will search for His sheep. In Isaiah 43, we hear, "I am Jehovah your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviora|I am Jehovah besides me there is no Savior." And, in Isaiah 45, Jehovah said, "There is no other god besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior."
Who is this Baby crying as the sharp knife slices His skin? Who is this Baby who sheds real blood and real tears? This is, as we sing in the hymn, "Abram's promised great Reward, Zion's helper, Jacob's Lord." This is the One who put Noah in the Ark, appeared to Jacob at Bethel, and whom David knew as shepherd.
Presidents and even presidential candidates go out of their way to do ordinary things to appeal to voters. The first President Bush went shopping at a mall. John Kerry went hunting. The current President Bush serves food to the troops. These are political stunts to appeal to ordinary people. That's not what's going on here. Jehovah takes on flesh and blood, does ordinary baby things: drools, messes His diapers, and suffers circumcision to save sinners from their sins. Jehovah doesn't take on flesh and blood to save you from heart disease, a difficult marriage, a hard job, or an emotionally difficult life. He doesn't promise you a rose garden in 2006; He promises thorns. But amidst the thorns of 2006, Jehovah will be saving your from your sins.
This ought not to be news to you. Hopefully, every single sermon you've heard from me tells you that what Jesus does is save you from your sins. But there's more to it than most of you know or are willingly to learn which is a pity since knowing how Jesus saves exposes the subtle ways we try to save ourselves. In our short text, we see not only what Jesus came to do but specifically how He does it.
Here we see Jesus on the 8th day being circumcised in obedience to God's command, "Every male among you who is 8 days old shall be circumcised." Being circumcised He was obligated to keep all the Old Testament Laws, not just the moral ones but the civil and ceremonial ones. By virtue of being born of woman, Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus was born under the moral law as we all are. In being circumcised, Jesus places Himself under the special Laws that applied only to the Old Testament Church.
In being circumcised Jesus, Jehovah in flesh and blood, actively keeps the Law. All the Laws of God had to be kept perfectly if we were to be saved from our sins. So when you think of the Christian life as "have to's" and "gottas," you're forgetting about the active obedience of Jesus. You're forgetting that Jehovah took on flesh and blood in Mary's womb so that He could take your place under the Law. When you see God's Law as a long "do to" list hanging over your head, you're really saying that Jesus hasn't yet come or that His keeping of the Law wasn't sufficient.
In 2005 when you saw Divine Service, Bible Study, or serving your neighbor as something you "gotta" do what you were really saying was that Jesus hadn't done all things already or that He didn't do them well enough. God still needed your frail, weak, sinful keeping of the Law. But you know that God doesn't need you to be circumcised in 2006 to please Him. Well, if you can see that's true for this one Old Testament Law, why can't you see it's true for all of God's Laws? What pleases God is that Jesus kept all of His Laws. What pleases God is you relying on Jesus having kept all laws. In Jesus God sees all laws as having been done perfectly. So you are to see Him smiling on you in 2006 for Jesus' sake.
In this short text, you see the active obedience of Jesus. He keeps the Law of God for you. But active obedience isn't enough to please God. God hadn't just commanded His laws be kept. He promised that whoever broke His laws would be punished. If any of God's promises were to mean anything, could be relied on, trusted in, than all of God's promises had to be kept. If He did not fulfill His promise to punish those who broke His laws, what good would His promise to forgive sins be?
The seriousness of breaking a law is judged based on the one who is wronged. You can push and shove me all you want, and the most that might happen is an assault charge, but you push and shove the President and what happens? You go to jail, not for days but years. You can spit on me and that would be rude. Spit on the President and that's a crime. All of our sins are first and foremost against God. After David committed adultery and murder, he said, "against Thee only have I sinned." When Joseph is tempted to sleep with Potiphar's wife, which surely would've been a sin against Potiphar, he says surprisingly, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God!"
Whom you really sinned against in 2005 is God. Those spats with your spouse; that disobeying of your parents; those lustful, greedy, worried thoughts were sins primarily against God. What does it take to pay for a sin against God? What does it take to satisfy the wrath of God? What can please God besides God? So, God the Son, takes on flesh and blood not just actively to keep the Law in our place but to suffer passively the punishments the Law of God requires. 10,000 deaths like ours would not satisfy the wrath of God, but the death of God in flesh and blood did. Here, just 8 days old, Jesus, Jehovah in flesh and blood, allows His holy, flesh to be sliced and His blood to flow as the down payment for our sins.
We will all suffer something in 2006: sickness, fear, relationships broken by the trauma of death or the drama of disagreement. Some of it will be unsolvable; all of it will be painful, but none of it will happen to pay for your sins. The Lord does use pain and sorrow in our lives as a good shepherd uses His rod and staff, to keep us close, on the right path, ever heading to His green pastures. But no sorrow, ache, despair, or fret is to pay for your sins. God can't be bill collecting in the rooms of hospitals, houses, or funeral homes, because Jesus paid that bill in full by His innocent suffering and death and by the shedding of His holy, precious blood.
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh says those wanting to remove Christmas from our culture are offended by one thing, "God." That's silly. They aren't against God-mas. They're against Christ-mas. The problem is that many conservatives think Christmas is about God. No it's about Jesus the Christ. It's His name, not God's that is given for salvation. It's at the name of Jesus, not God's that every knee will bow. When we date 2006 as A.D., A.D. doesn't stand for Anno Deus, in the year of our God, but in the year of our Lord, Anno Domini. In fact Anno Domini is really shorthand for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, "In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ." So whatever 2006 brings, I can promise you that it will be a year of our Lord Jesus Christ, another year in which Jehovah saves us from our sins. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Circumcision and Name of Jesus (20060101); Luke 2:21