Circumcision and Name of Jesus
January 2nd, 2017
Messiah Lutheran Church, Keller, TX
“He Was Called Jesus”
It's not every year that the 8th day of Christmas falls on a Sunday. But in observance of what actually happened to Jesus on his 8th day from birth, we take today to commemorate his circumcision and naming.
The Gospel reading is short, but it still gives us much to consider. We may notice, first of all, that Jesus being circumcised would have been very normal and expected for any newborn Jewish boy. It was a custom of the Jews from the time of Abraham. It was a visible sign of the covenant, and it marked you (irreversibly) as part of that covenant people. To be a Jew was to be circumcised. To be uncircumcised was to be a Gentile.
But you might say, “so what?” Why does the fact that Jesus underwent this odd Jewish ritual have anything to do with me? Why does the church bother celebrating it, and why does Luke even mention it?
Well remember this little aphorism: Everything Jesus does, he does for you. So too, his circumcision. By this event, mentioned by one short verse in Luke, Jesus begins fulfilling the law on our behalf. He goes through everything, every step, every stage of human life that we do – in order to redeem all of us. At every turn he kept the commandments. On every occasion he did what God expected. And he did all things well.
Furthermore, this event is the first time his newly-formed human body would shed his holy precious blood, but it wouldn't be the last. It was a foreshadowing of the suffering he would endure at the cross. There he would pour out his blood as a ransom for many, and for you. Even now, the shadow of his crucifixion destiny is beginning to fall upon him.
And don't pass over the significance of the 8th day. Christians have long understood the special significance of this number – 8. If 7 is the number of creation (for the world was made in 6 plus a day of rest), then 8 is the number of the new creation. It is the number of eternity, the number of heaven. It is what we inherit through Christ.
It is also the number of holy baptism, which Paul connects to circumcision. The number 8 seen on many octagonal shaped baptismal fonts. This connection is recalled in Luther's flood prayer in the baptismal rite - that on the ark God saved Noah and his family, 8 souls in all. Both circumcision (then) and baptism (now) are initiation rites for the people of God. But baptism is the circumcision of the heart, and a blessing given to both male and female Christians. Baptism even more clearly expresses the nature of God by using his Triune Name, place that name upon us.
God's been placing his name upon his people for a long time. It goes at least as far back as the Aaronic Benediction from our Old Testament reading in Numbers 6. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them”. Paul makes it even stronger in Galatians when he says, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” To have his name upon us, then, is to be blessed by him. To have his name upon us is to be identified with him, to be united with him, to be accepted by him.
But perhaps most importantly, God places the name “Jesus” upon his son. Of course, it was through the angel Gabriel that this name was given, but as a messenger of God above. For the father typically has the naming rights. Speechless Zechariah had to confirm that his son would be named, “John”. Adam named the animals, and also his wife, as an exercise of his authority. Even today, children don't name themselves, but we all receive names from our parents, the ones who have the authority over us.
That Jesus was named “Jesus”, and not Joseph or something else entirely... it is a confession of his divine origin and lineage. He is the Son of God. So God alone has the naming rights.
And as we noted, not too long ago in the Advent season, the name “Jesus” also teaches us who he is, and what he does. It means, “God Saves”. And in this little child, God had come to save.
Implied in all of that, is that we need saving. Underlying the circumcision of God's people of old, and the Baptism of his people today is this universal truth: we are by nature apart from God in our sin. We are born outside of his kingdom. We are conceived in the rebellion that we inherit from our fathers, all the way up the rotten family tree back to the first man who was named - Adam.
But Jesus is the Second Adam. And he gives us a new name. His baptism makes us children of God, for in it, we “put on Christ”. No longer are we imprisoned under the law, held captive by its accusations. No longer are we bound to the hamster wheel of trying to justify ourselves by works, as if we ever could. No. Faith has come, and through faith we are all sons of God in the name of Jesus.
God saves. God saves, by his son Jesus. Jesus saves. Jesus saves by his death on the cross. And by that cross, God saves, Jesus saves... you. All that is wrapped up in the name, “Jesus”.
And when you talk about God's name, there's always that pesky Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
Leave it to sinful humans to abuse even the most precious gift. Leave it to us to find a way to corrupt what is holy, and try to use it for selfish gain. Even some thing like God's holy name. Jesus – the name of Jesus – even becomes a curse for some who would misuse it. May it never be so amongst us Christians!
Rather, let us not misuse, but properly use the name he has given us. Call on him in every trouble. Every trouble? Yes. None too large or small that he doesn't care to hear. Pray. Praise. Give thanks. Even when the going gets tough? Especially then. You have a precious hotline to heaven in the name of Jesus. Your prayers are acceptable to God in Jesus' name. Why not do as he desires, and call upon your merciful Father in the name of his beloved Son? Why not live according to that name that is on you in baptism? Why not shine forth a reflection of the blessings he speaks upon you? Don't neglect the name that God gave to him, a name he invites you to call.
And this is why we so often pray, “in Jesus' name”. As Christians, all our prayers are spoken, “in Jesus' name”. That is to say, none of our prayers are acceptable to God without Jesus. But through Jesus we not only have access to the Father, but he is favorably inclined to us. Jesus is our one true advocate with the Father, and so prayers in his name are precious to God. We don't pray in our own names, but in the name that is above every name. Could it get any better?
So this 8th day of Christmas, give thanks to God for the name of Jesus. A name he received from God. A name which he places upon us. A name which means what he does – God Saves. And remember that this savior, has come to save you.
In Jesus' Name, amen.