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. (EHV)
Happy New Year! New Year’s is a time when we as Christians focus on the past and the future—last year’s sins and forgiveness and our hopes for God’s promises for the future. We think about sad times we’ve been through, and we pray for good things we trust God will bless us with going forward. But since New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, it’s appropriate that we focus on the appointed day in the church calendar, namely, the Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus. Jesus was circumcised and officially named on the 8th day, corresponding to today, the 8th of the 12 days of Christmas. Throughout the history of the church—until the last couple generations—this was considered a very important day to commemorate. Paintings aplenty have been made. You have two of them in your bulletin. Even hymns: One in the ELS Hymnary as well as the old Lutheran Hymnal says,
O blessed day when first was poured / The blood of our redeeming Lord!
O blessed day when Christ began / His saving work for sinful man!
So what makes the day of Jesus’ Circumcision so significant? First, even at eight days old Jesus was already ushering in the New Testament. Second, on that day Jesus was officially given a New Name, which, as a result, promises us continued blessings as we enter this New Year.
Jesus is the Second Adam. The first Adam was created holy and would have actually been able to attain eternity in paradise by keeping the Law perfectly. Adam’s nature wasn’t corrupted yet, so he had that ability when God created him! Ifonly Adam had done what he was supposed to! But he didn’t; and once he fell into sin, it became impossible for him or any of his descendants, including us, to keep the Law from that day forward. God didn’t change. Man did. God still expected perfect law-keeping. So God, since He’s not only holy but also merciful, promised and sent the Second Adam—Jesus. He too, like Adam at the creation, came into this world holy and able to keep the Law. By keeping all the commands of God, He could earn salvation for Himself. But since He is not only true man but also true God, could also purchase our eternal redemption by keeping the Law and shedding His innocent blood in our place! So He did!
But that meant He had to keep every Law of God. He had to keep them all perfectly, from the moment of conception until the moment of His death—and not just the 10 Commandments; Jesus had to keep all the Old Testament ceremonial laws, too! Every single one of them! Once Jesus kept those ceremonial Laws, God was done with them. They were abrogated—abolished—because they were fulfilled. In keeping them Jesus was ushering in the New Covenant, the final age, the New Testament.
God gave the Old Testament ceremonial law—including circumcision—for a purpose—a purpose that was limited in time, designed to end when Messiah came. God’s two-fold purpose was to set apart His “People of the Book”—to keep them separated from other people around them, so that they would not blend in with the world and lose the promise of the Savior or lose the Holy Scriptures He entrusted to them for safekeeping. God’s second purpose for His Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices was to point them ahead to the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world. God instituted the Old Testament covenant of circumcision with Father Abraham, when He promised that Abraham’s descendants would be a special people, set apart for preserving the Promise and the promised Line of the Savior. “Through your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed,” He told Abraham.
Jesus not only fulfilled all the old ceremonial laws, He fulfilled them for us, in our place, as our substitute—including circumcision. In so doing, Jesus was ushering in a New Testament, a New Testament He sealed with His blood, which He poured out for our sins. When Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross, not only was our salvation a done deal; God was also finished with the Old Testament ceremonies, like circumcision. Paul reminds us in Colossians 2:4 that they “were a shadow of things to come. The reality however is found in Christ.” That’s why the temple curtain was rent in two the moment Jesus died. We now live in God’s new and lasting testament of grace.
As is the ancient Christian practice at baptism, the circumcision of an Old Testament child was also the occasion when he was formally named. It was no different for Jesus.
For thousands of years, God kept the devil in the dark as to just who the Messiah would be. Every time a child was born, the devil had to gulp hard and worry “Will this one be the Messiah?” But now the secret was out. The One all believers from Eve to Joseph and Mary had hoped and waited for was now born. When Christ appeared in the Old Testament—like when He wrestled with Jacob—He refused to reveal His Name. But now the Son of God, who was with the Father and the Spirit in all eternity had become Man and come into the world, and as the angel had announced to both Mary and Joseph separately, His Name was to be forever known as Jesus, the Name above all names! What a Name it is! Jesus means “Jehovah saves.” And He does save, as Peter preached on Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In fact, as he told the Sanhedrin when they dragged him in, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)
The Name of Jesus is more precious than any other! Millions call on His Name and are saved! Millions love Jesus, who first loved them. Hardly a soul on earth has not heard His Name. Some abuse, revile, and take His Name in vain, but the day will come when all—either willingly or by force—will acknowledge and honor the Name of Jesus. “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10,11).
Calling on His Name in faith, we ourselves have received a new name! In the Book of Revelation, Jesus promises the faithful: “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never leave it again. I will also write on him the name of my God …and my new name” (Revelation 3:12).
There’s a reason that your “first name” is also referred to as your “given name” and your “Christian name.” It was given to you at your “Christening,” your baptism into Christ. Paul wrote, “But you were washed, … you were sanctified, … you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. … Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:11,15a). Jesus received His Name at His circumcision. You received your name—your Christian name—at your baptism into the Name of Him who was circumcised for you, who fulfilled for you all the Old Testament Laws, to earn you a place at His side forever. You are “Jesus people,” saved as you call on the Name that is above every other name.
Along with your new name come special promises from God that you can rely on as you enter into this New Year in faith. God has said: “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent. For the sake of Jerusalem I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth shining brightly, and her salvation burns like a torch. 2 Nations will see your righteousness, and all kings will see your glory. You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will assign to you. 3 Then you will be a beautiful crown in the Lord’s hand, and a royal diadem in the palm of your God. 4 You will never again be called Abandoned (Azubah), and your land will never again be called Desolation(Shemamah), for you will be called My Delight Is in Her(Hephzibah), and your land will be called Married(Beulah), because the Lord delights in you, and your land will be married. 5 For…just as a bridegroom rejoices over a bride, your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:1–5).
Entering yet another year in this sinful, decaying world, we need God’s promises and reassurance. In this world, we bear many sad crosses. This earthly territory is rightly called a “vale” (or valley) “of tears.” Whenever a New Year comes around, we think of those we love who gone on ahead of us in years gone by. And we wonder what the future holds, and realistically acknowledge that we too shall die, because of Adam’s fall, and our own personal sins. That’s why it means so much to us that Jesus promised: “In this world you are going to have trouble. But be courageous! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). There will be trials and tribulations, but God uses those consequences of sin to prompt us to call again on the glorious Name of Jesus, our only Hope. And He will hear and answer! Jesus’ promises fall into one of two columns: those He already fulfilled, and those that will yet be fulfilled. Jesus has overcome the world. We can be courageous and of good cheer!
You already possess all the eternal blessings God has reserved for you. We confess that we believe that Jesus has created all things “visible and invisible.” Jesus has already prepared a place for you in heaven. You can’t see it; it’s invisible. But it’s already there, waiting! God has already planned out and mapped His new heaven and new earth! He’s already anointed you a member of His royal family! With a New Name written on our foreheads, all the Promises and fulfillments of the New Testament are already sealed in Jesus’ blood, and even placed on your tongue in the sacrament. You and I enter the New Year with comfort, courage and confidence!
On one of the occasions Luther preached on this one verse text, he said tongue-in-cheek in his sermon introduction that it would be a very short sermon on such a short text. … When he concluded the same, relatively long sermon, he said he could easily have gone on for a few more hours. I think you’ll agree, the day Jesus was circumcised and given His Name above all names, has a whole lot to say to us.
As an infant, Jesus was already earning our salvation, serving as our Substitute already on His 8th day, by fulfilling all of God’s laws—even the Old Testament ceremonial laws. And on that day, He was given the Name that is so sweet in a believer’s ear—the one Name by which we are saved. And to think God has put His own new Name on us! We are “Jesus people”—Christians. As we enter the New Year, we do so with courage and confidence! We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters! We have His Name written on our hearts! Therefore, God is for us! And if God is for us, who can be against us?” God Himself grant you a bless-edNew Year, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.