O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Jesus' Name: Another Christmas Gift for You
Jesus' Name: Another Christmas Gift for You
Based on Luke 2:21
Preached on January 1, 2017,
In Christ, Who makes every year new, friends!
The Bible says this about Jesus: FROM THE FULNESS OF HIS GRACE WE HAVE ALL RECEIVED ONE BLESSING AFTER ANOTHER. Your eyes do not always see life that way. Mine don’t, either. That’s why you need God to perch His Word in front of you like a set of eyeglasses to help you really see.
The way the Bible handles the story of Christmas shows how true it is that Christ’s grace brings you one blessing after another. Today we’ve reached the eighth of the twelve days of Christmas. In today’s Gospel reading we’ve moved away from that starlit night with shepherds and manger and the baby wrapped in strips of cloth. But it’s still Christmas. Christ, through His Word, is still giving you Christmas gifts if you have the eyes and the heart to receive them.
This eighth day of Christmas is baby Jesus’ circumcision-day. That might sound like an odd thing to talk about in church. It was a key event in the life of a Jewish baby boy. Hundreds of years before Jesus came to our world, God gave a command to His servant, Abraham. The Jews thought of Abraham as the “father of the faithful,” the founding member of their nation. When God made the promise to Abraham to be his Lord and Helper, He commanded that Abraham should be circumcised. Going forward from there, the Lord added that the newborn boys in Jewish families should be circumcised on the eighth day of their life.
For believing Jews, this was not just a medical procedure. This was a sign: The Lord is mine, and I am His. It marked someone as accepted into the company of God’s chosen people. It continued for centuries. Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, were devout Jewish believers. There was no question in their minds that their firstborn Son should be marked this way, too. After all, God was His … and He was God’s.
If that’s all there were to it, then baby Jesus’ circumcision would have meant no more than that of all the other Jewish baby boys who had this. But Jesus’ circumcision means much more. It means He was willing to submit to every burden and every requirement laid on sinful human beings. When He was born into our world, Jesus became one of us. He didn’t just become a human being to take part in the fun and happy side of human life; parents cuddling you, celebrating your birthdays, adoring relatives making over you, telling you how cute you are, and things like that. Jesus was born into our world to take everything sinful human beings have to face, including the hard parts: He felt gnawing hunger when He fasted 40 days in the desert. He cried when His dear friend, Lazarus, died. He felt stabbing sorrow in His heart when people turned away from His love. His body twisted in pain when they flogged and spiked Him to a cross. His strength faded away while He was dying up on that piece of wood. The letter to the Hebrews says WE DO NOT HAVE A HIGH PRIEST WHO IS UNABLE TO SYMPATHIZE WITH OUR WEAKNESSES, BUT WE HAVE ONE WHO HAS BEEN TEMPTED IN EVERY WAY, JUST AS WE ARE – YET WAS WITHOUT SIN. The apostle St. Paul puts it like this: GOD MADE
HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US. To carry your burdens and pay your penalties, Jesus had to get His shoulder all the way under every sad thing you have to endure, and all the way under every demand God makes of people. In order to do that, Jesus’ suffering started early. It was already there on the eighth day of His life. It’s the first time – at least that we know of – that Jesus felt pain; and the first time we know of that Jesus shed His blood. In order to rescue sinners, Jesus had to come close to us. He had to stand in line next to us. He had to carry what you and I have to carry, though He did it without complaining, growing bitter, or trying to escape it.
A second wonder took place on this eighth day of Jesus’ life. Our one-verse Gospel reading for today tells you what that is: ON THE EIGHTH DAY, WHEN IT WAS TIME TO CIRCUMCISE HIM, HE WAS NAMED JESUS, THE NAME THE ANGEL HAD GIVEN HIM BEFORE HE HAD BEEN CONCEIVED.
So this eighth day of Christmas is not only Jesus’ circumcision-day. It’s also Jesus’ naming-day! His Name came about very differently from most of our names. You know how it goes when parents are expecting a baby. Father and Mother talk – and maybe even argue a bit – over names they like. Back in 1983 when we were reaching that point, Gail and I bought a book called Name Your Baby. If I remember right, she went through the book and checked all the names that appealed to her. I did the same. The problem came with names for a little girl, because there weren’t that many girl-names in the book with two checkmarks next to them, if you
know what I’m saying! We worked it out somehow. Of course, now you can go on the internet for these things and find out more than reasonable people want to know!
Other times, parents pick a name because they wish to honour a grandparent or another ancestor from the past. Let’s say it like this: Usually we choose names because they have a meaning for us, or because we want to express some special meaning through our child.
The Name “Jesus” did not come because Joseph and Mary sat down and pored through some “Name Your Baby Scroll” from the Nazareth Public Library. Today’s text says that an angel gave this Name before the Holy Child was conceived. You also read in the Bible how an angel came to Joseph before the little boy was born and commanded Joseph: YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS, BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.
The angel did not say that because he wanted to take away the joy Joseph and Mary would have had in naming their firstborn. The angel said it because God wanted to give them something. The angel called Him Jesus because God wants to give everybody something.
The Name “Jesus” means “Saviour” … or “Rescuer” … or “Helper”. Here’s the point. People are in trouble. They need rescuing. You cannot save yourself, and I can’t, either. God has to give a Saviour as an undeserved gift. The arrival of this Holy Child – and God’s command to name Him “Jesus” – shows that this is precisely what God wants to do. This is God’s desire, His mission, His goal for the world. It’s His desire for you personally. It’s like Jesus Himself said many years later: GOD DID NOT SEND HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, BUT TO SAVE THE WORLD THROUGH HIM. The apostle Paul wrote pretty much the same thing to his young friend, Timothy: CHRIST JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS.
This Name is a gift. God picked it. He sent His angel to share it. God could have decided to deal with the rebellious world by sending you a letter bomb that blows up the minute you open it. He could have sent His Son and given Him the name “Terminator” to settle scores and crush us for all the wrong we’ve done. Instead, He gave us this Child … and gave us the Name “Jesus” to go with the Child, because this Child came to save.
Christ’s men saw this Name for what it is. It’s a gift. It’s a treasure. THERE IS NO OTHER NAME UNDER HEAVEN GIVEN TO MEN BY WHICH WE MUST BE SAVED, they said. The true God does not just sit far away on the other side of the clouds, making you wonder Who He is, what He wants, or how you can reach Him. He broke through the clouds when He sent His Son down to Bethlehem’s manger-straw. And He pasted a label on this gift – the Name “Jesus” – so that you would know for sure what God is trying to do. When you call out to the Name Jesus, you’re at the right address. You’re knocking on the door where heaven’s Father is at home.
Let’s say it again: The Name “Jesus” is a gift. It’s a gift you can use. I told you at the beginning that this eighth day of Christmas was Jesus’ circumcision-day. Then we pointed out how the eighth day of Christmas is Jesus’ naming-day. I guess it probably has not escaped your notice that this eighth day of Christmas on our calendar is also New Year’s Day.
Today’s one-verse Gospel is part of the great Christmas chapter in the Bible which looks back to all the beautiful happenings in Bethlehem. But this day at the beginning of January at the same time turns you forward to think about the future we call “2017”.
Maybe you’ve been to Chinese restaurants, as I have, and noticed how our oriental friends give labels to each new year: It’s the year of the rat … or the pig … or the monkey … or the dog; things like that. Or you’ll notice how news reports will talk about a certain year as an election year, a year of violence, a year of natural disasters. We cannot help but think of our friends up in Fort McMurray, for example, who suffered so badly – and continue to suffer – because of the horrific fires of 2016.
Towering over all those descriptions, you know what sort of year 2017 is for you? It’s a year of Jesus. It’s a year coming as a gift from Jesus. It’s a year you are permitted to live through with Jesus. Remember how they used to date old cornerstones on churches and even some secular public buildings? The inscription might read AD 1911, AD 1948, or whatever. That “AD” was a Latin abbreviation for “Anno Domini.” It meant “In the Year of the Lord 1911” or 1948, or whatever the case was. Years ago the public had a stronger sense that they were living their years under the auspices of the Lord. Secular society in Canada has done everything possible to erase that, but today’s Gospel is helping to keep that insight alive for you.
The Bible says, WHATEVER YOU DO, WHETHER IN WORD OR IN DEED, DO IT ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER THROUGH HIM. My friend, you don’t have a secular life. That is true regardless of your occupation. As a child of God who had Jesus’ Name placed on your head in the waters of Holy Baptism, you live your entire life and all your days under that Name. It’s like an umbrella covering you everywhere you go. Our father Martin Luther describes that when he taught people how to pray morning and evening in the Small Catechism. You find that on Page 327 in your hymnbook; you can look it up later on. Luther writes there, “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When you draw the cross over your own body, it serves as a reminder that you are covered over with the Name of Jesus and covered over by the sacrifice He made for you on that cross of His.
It is a solemn reminder. The fact that you have Jesus’ Name on you should steer you away from doing things and saying things and cultivating attitudes that would grieve Jesus Christ. The fact that you have Jesus’ Name on you ought to nudge you toward the kinds of words and actions and thinking that give glory to Jesus and make Him glad.
But having Jesus’ Name close to you does not only sound a reminder or a warning. It is an incredible comfort. Jesus watches over you through all the hours and days of this New Year. Jesus sees when you are having a hard time with this or that. Jesus pays attention to all the details of your work-life, also your life at home with your family. Jesus blesses the good things you do to try to show love to other people. Jesus forgives you when you sin and grieve Him. Jesus listens to the prayers you speak in His Name, because His Name gets your prayers to the right address where your Father-God is at home and open for business. You are not going into this New Year on your own.
This is one reason I want to say publicly how grateful I am for people in our church family who have resolved to get into the habit of every-day Scripture reading in the New Year. The Name of Jesus is with you as you make that resolution, too. He’ll send His Spirit to enlighten your mind and help you grasp things in the Bible that are tough to understand. He’ll also strengthen you to stick with it.
Yes, it’s the eighth day of Christmas. Christmas days are gradually fading away. Christ, the great Lord of Christmas, is not fading at all. He’s unwrapping one Christmas gift after another, sending one blessing after another, offering you one piece of needed help after another, seeking to move in and take up residence in one area of your life after another.
All those glad things and many others besides are bundled together in the Name “Jesus” which God drops into your lap once again in this New Year. It’s such a precious treasure. So guard it well, and keep it strong! Amen.
Rev. Robert Bugbee