He was named, Jesus!
Aren’t you glad it’s over? Last night, we left another year behind us. It was a doozy, wasn’t it? A year marked by racial violence, terror attacks, an unprecedented election that demonstrated the national division in our country. A year with natural disasters that wiped out communities. For pete’s sake, the Cubs won the World Series, it was that kind of year. Perhaps some of you couldn’t wait for today, couldn’t wait to wash the taste of 2016 out of your mouth. Is that how you view last year? I hope not. I hope you don’t look back on 2016 with only bad thoughts. Because even if you lost a loved one last year, even if you had financial struggles, even if it seemed as if everything that could go wrong, did last year, there was something wonderful going on last year—every week, every day, every second. When we look back over the troubles that came and went, it’s easy to think that there isn’t much wonderful going on in this world—or that the little wonderful things don’t really matter. Mary and Joseph would tell you something different. Listen again as Luke shares it with you and invites you to gaze with him on something special, something wonderful. “After eight days passed, when the child was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” There were so many parts of Jesus’ birth that were miraculous: the annunciation by the angels to Mary and Joseph, the heavenly host singing to the shepherds. The miracle of a virgin pregnant and giving birth to a child. But not this. God’s Word today records something so common—if it weren’t for the word “angel”, you wouldn’t even think that there’s anything miraculous about it at all. It was all so ordinary, so normal. Boring, even. This little verse tucked away in your Bible, this verse that gets overlooked because it comes right after the “famous” part of Luke 2 that many of us know by heart. But if you ponder it, if you think about it and chew on it, doesn’t it just fill your eyes with the wonder of what God was doing? Think of what it is that’s happening? Mary and Joseph—people no different than you or me, sitting in their home fro something so private and ordinary—something that you and your spouse may have taken part in once or twice yourself. They gave their baby boy his name when he was eight days old—”Jesus” was the name the angel Gabriel had told them to use, a name as common then as its English version Joshua is today. They had him circumcised—the flick of the knife, a few drops of blood and it was done. So ordinary. But it wasn’t, was it? What made that day so special wasn’t just the what; it was the who. Maybe the naming of Jesus doesn’t seem to special. You can even get that idea when Christians—of all people, Christians!—take the name of their Lord and throw it around in their speech as something plain, something vulgar, something cheap. My God. Jesus Christ. It’s not cheap. His name and his circumcision both tell us about why Jesus was born and what he was here to do. His name tells you what. His circumcision tells you how. Matthew records for us the words of the angel telling us what Jesus means, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus, the Lord saves. Jesus, circumcised as a child. Do you hear what they’re telling you? When my parents named me Nathan, I don’t know why they picked that particular name. Perhaps it was because Nathan means, “God has given.” Perhaps they just liked the way it sounded. But no matter what the reason, the name says more about them than it does about me. When God had Mary and Joseph name the child Jesus, it wasn’t to say something about them; it tells us about Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to be your teacher—even though he teaches us things. He didn’t come to be our example of how to live—even though he is a perfect example. He didn’t come to condemn us—even though he will one day judge the world. He came to save us. His name tells us that even if your years are filled with pain, even if your years are filled with reminders of your sin, God loves you and came to save you. Even his circumcision says that. Being circumcised was a way of saying, “I’m bound to God’s law as one of his people. Every last thing that God demands of his people, God now demands of me.” He put himself in your place. When we think of Jesus being our Savior, what do you usually think of? He didn’t just die for us. He lived for us. Here’s what Jesus’ circumcision means for you: think of the sinful nature that rears its ugly head far too often. You hate it, it makes you guilty and miserable and frankly a bit scared that God is disappointed, upset, and going to make you pay. And it’s not just in the big ways—the lustful thoughts, the hurtful words. All the “little” sins, too, that seem as ever-present as your shadow. Now see Jesus. Even as a little baby, he began to fulfill God’s law. Even as a little baby, he put himself in your place. You know how he lived. Perfectly. And now God counts that as yours. Through Christ’s perfect obedience you have perfect obedience. Doesn’t it make you excited to hear what that child would do for you? When you read of his perfect love for those in need—God counts that as yours! When you see how unfailingly he spoke the truth—in ways that you and I are so often scared to—God counts that as yours! When you see him sharing forgiveness, when you read of him showing love and respect all of that is what he did for you. Jesus wasn’t just a Savior who took away our sins; he’s a Savior who gives us his righteousness. Now look back over 2016 with God’s eyes. What does God see? A perfect and holy year of you serving him. That’s what God wants you to know when you think of Christ’s circumcision and you hear the name Jesus. How would you describe the way you lived this last year? Mediocre? So-so? Sinful at times? God calls you holy. ANd that means it was a wonderful year. No wonder God’s greatest blessing was to put his name on his people. No wonder Paul praised the name of Jesus so highly in our second lesson from Philippians. No wonder Christians carved it on the tombstones of their loved ones who had died in faith. “After eight days passed, when the child was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Over the years the Christian Church didn’t really make a big deal out of celebrating the New Year. They always chose to do something else. They got together on this day, and they read again this short passage about Jesus’ name. They did it to remember what God had done for them. They did it to quiet any fears they had about what might come next. They did it to remember why they were excited about living another year. At Christmas we celebrated that when God gave us his Son, he gave us everything that’s his. Luther had a wonderful way of saying it when he wrote: “Since he baptized you into his name, we are all Jesus’ from him, all Saviors from him, whatever he has has been given to us.” That’s Luther’s way of saying, “Every day we live, we can all remember that we are forgiven by Jesus and we live to glorify Jesus.” “Therefore…” is the way Paul said it. Since Jesus’ name is exalted, since it’s a name that’s been given to you, since you confess it with your tongue, do what Paul encouraged throughout this New Year: “continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. In fact, it is God who is working in you, both to will and to work, for the sake of his good pleasure.” Instead of a call to make New Year’s resolutions, Paul said, “Since you have a Savior who has made your life holy, live a holy life in him.” Do everything you do in Jesus’ name, because it’s the most precious thing he’s given you. Do it all to honor him, do it all to give witness to what he’s done in love for this world. Do it with humility and love, so that when people look at you, they hear in your words the name of Jesus, and in your actions see examples of a Savior who loves us. Don’t resolve to be someone different; live in the reality of who God made you to be. Another year is here. Is it going to be like last year? Of course it will. It will be a time of hardship and pain, joy and triumph. And it will be a year with your Savior, lived in his name. It will be a year in which he washes away your sins, a year in which he strengthens you through Word and Sacrament and a year in which he’ll give you countless opportunities to live to his glory. Aren’t you excited to live it? Amen.