January 1, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” So the Psalmist begins his praise of the Lord in today’s psalm. The majesty of the Lord’s name is connected to the glory that He possesses. The poetic verses of the psalm expound on that divine glory. It speaks of His supremacy: “You have set Your glory above the heavens.” The act of creation reveals the power that the Lord has; the psalmist speaks of the celestial beings as the Lord’s handiwork: “I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place….” That supreme power of creation, the divine glory set above all things, and every other divine characteristic is brought to mind when the Lord’s Name is spoken.
This helps to explain the significance of what the Lord directed Aaron and his sons to do when blessing the Exodus people and their descendants. During the trek from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Lord had given orders about how the Levitical priests were to bless His people: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.’ So shall they put My name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
The Lord’s people were to have His name placed on them as a seal. He who created the heavens and the earth would be their protector. The Lord would use His power and glory to benefit His people. Hearing the Lord’s name and the actions that He was accomplishing for them—blessing, keeping, showing graciousness, giving peace—the people would have their hearts, minds, and souls turned to Him. They would remember the Covenant made with them and all the promises that it contained. Their status as the people who belong to the Lord and depend on Him would be reconfirmed. The Lord’s name, His characteristics, and His acts of deliverance would be brought to mind each time that blessing was spoken.
This morning, the Church recalls that divine name. But it is recalled in connection with more than the commands given to the Levitical priests of the Old Testament. There is focus on the divine name that is borne by the Son of Mary born in Bethlehem. January 1 is set apart for the celebration of when Jesus was circumcised and named. You heard the Gospel account of that, the shortest Gospel Reading in the lectionary: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”
Why is this event in Jesus’ life remembered? It is more than just recognizing something that happened eight days after His birth. That single verse from Luke’s Gospel testifies about Jesus, revealing significant things about Him. The first is that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law in detail. Even the little things were kept by Him: “at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised….” The divine requirement of circumcising male children at eight days of age was met by Jesus. He underwent the procedure that marked Him as one of the Lord’s Covenant people. True man, born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus was a faithful participant in the Covenant made with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
That keeping of the Covenant is important to note. It is essential to Jesus’ role as a substitute for Adam and his progeny. Where man disobeyed, Jesus obeyed. Where man fell short, Jesus was perfect. Where man sinned, Jesus was present with holiness. Keeping the Law in every detail is how Jesus was a worthy substitute for you. That point is illustrated in Paul’s statement found in today’s Epistle Reading: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the Law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the Law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Every divine command that you had broken stood as an imprisoning guard against you. But your salvation was accomplished by receiving the benefits of Jesus’ work, including His thorough obedience: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
The second part of the Gospel Reading brings forward the second significant item about Jesus’ identity. Remember what it said: “He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” That statement takes your minds back to what happened at the Annunciation. This year, you heard the details of that event on the Fourth Sunday in Advent. You heard what the angel spoke to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”
But the Gospel Writer does not only want you to remember the name given. No, the reminder of what the angel had said brings to mind what else was disclosed about the Son that Mary bore: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Jesus’ origin was also included in the statement made by the angel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
The focus on the name Jesus given to the Holy Child is to make His identity known to you. Here the mystery of the incarnation begins to be unfolded. True God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, the Infant Jesus shares all the divine power and glory that His Father possesses. The name Lord belongs to Him, even at eight days of age. The Lord who “set [His] glory above the heavens” is carried in the arms of Mary. The Psalmist said about the Lord: “Out of the mouth of babes and infants, You have established strength because of Your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” His divine strength is found in the Babe of Bethlehem, the One who would crush the Ancient Serpent’s head and bring to conclusion the divide between God and man. Such are the statements that can be made when talking about the Lord in the flesh.
All this is disclosed in the name of Jesus (Yeshua) that means “the Lord saves.” The Lord saves: that is what Jesus does. Remember the directions given to Aaron and his sons about pronouncing blessing. Six actions were spoken in that formula given to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” These are all actions through which the Lord saves, how He gives salvation. But those actions are also what Jesus Himself does.
“The Lord bless you”: Jesus is the One who was foretold to Abraham, the Descendant through whom all nations would be blessed. “The Lord keep you”: Jesus protects and is present with His people always, even to the end of the age. “The Lord make His face to shine upon you”: Jesus brings the divine light of righteousness to mankind entrapped in sin and does not ignore their plight. “The Lord be gracious to you”: Jesus’ life was full of compassion, acting for the benefit of others, putting their welfare at the fore. “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you”: through Jesus’ work, sinful humanity has the divine face set on them for good instead of eternally receiving an angry glare. “The Lord give you peace”: Jesus’ death and resurrection brings the war between mankind and God to an end, leaving guilt buried in His tomb and extending pardon to those who receive Him. What the Lord spoke through the Levitical priesthood was actualized in what He Himself did as an incarnate man born in Bethlehem.
The Lord declared about the prescribed blessing: “So they shall put My name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” You also have had His name placed on you, marking you as His covenant people. It was not done by circumcision on the eighth day. But it is what transpired as you received Holy Baptism. In that act, you were recipients of the power and glory that His name bears. That is what Paul alludes to in the Epistle Reading: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” A new identity has been given to you: you belong to Christ as you bear His name. You are His people, the Lord’s people. So you share in the blessing that He brings to those who have His majestic name put on them. You receive sonship in the divine household through what Jesus, the Son of the Most High God and Son of Mary, has accomplished for you.
This is why the Lord is mindful of you. It is how you have been crowned with glory and honor. Being made in the Lord’s image and likeness, you had a status beyond all other creatures. But not only did you share in that, now you also bear His name. That name recalls His majesty and glory, what He used to redeem you. So as you hear of the circumcision of Jesus this day, remember how He fulfilled the Law for you. As you hear of the naming of Jesus this day, know that He is the Lord who saved you. And as you hear the divine blessing at the close of service, be reminded of every characteristic that the Lord possesses and that He acts for your benefit. That is what He discloses to you, so that you can say: “O Lord, our Lord [Jesus], how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.