A sermon given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican) on the Second Sunday of Christmas, Jan. 3, 2021, commemorating the Holy Name and Circumcision of Jesus.
As we continue to rejoice in the birth of Christ this Christmas, we’re looking at “The Forgotten Chapters” of this season. One of those “forgotten” moments is found in a single verse of Luke’s Gospel. Look with me at chapter 2, verse 21: “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.”
It’s a single verse. Often neglected, often overlooked, but full of the comfort of the Christmas gospel. One of the things I love about preaching is finding these verses in scripture that are virtual treasure chests. And I then get to turn and bring some of that treasure back to you. It’s marvelous.
Turn with me now again and think on Mary and Joseph after the birth of their son. How full of wonder they must have been. Perhaps also some fear of the task that had been entrusted to them. Think on them as they present their son for circumcision and naming on that eighth day. Think on them as they are asked what the name of this child will be and they respond unison (perhaps each to the surprise of the other), his name shall be called Yeshua, God is salvation. Or, as we know him, Jesus. Remember, they were both told by the angel Gabriel that his name would be called Jesus (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31). And what a name.
John Newton wrote of the name of Jesus:
How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrow, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.
Though men attempt to forget, neglect, downgrade, blaspheme, and bury his name, Jesus’ name has brought more comfort and healing to the world than any other. Amen?
(Parenthesis: isn’t it strange how people react when the name of Jesus is brought up in serious conversation – when his name is used as something more than a curse? The effect is something akin to, I don’t know, a record player screeching to a halt. Does that say more about him or about us? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.)
Because of who he is, his is the name above every name and every knee will bow to him, in this life or the next (Philippians 2:9-11). Because of what he accomplished, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
We (Christians, after all) are a people of the Name. We glory in the name of Jesus. He reveals, definitively, who the living God is. As we celebrate that name today, we want to be attentive and mindful of the context in which his name was given. I’m talking here about his circumcision. He was called Jesus as he was circumcised (parents, you have a takeaway!). Why? What does that mean?
Today, we’ll look at three things the name of Jesus means, in connection with his circumcision.
II. Shed Blood & Atonement
Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with Jewish practice (see Genesis 17 & God’s covenant with Abraham). But here’s the mind-blowing thing: Jesus is the promise declared in circumcision itself. Circumcision was the very branding of God’s promises and plan upon the Jewish people – and Jesus himself the promised seed. He is the blessing to all nations. As he is circumcised, his blood is shed for the first time. His identity as the sin-bearer of humanity is revealed and his destiny of atonement is proclaimed.
If you look to the side of the nave, you’ll see station 9, which depicts today’s passage. Perhaps the picture is a little more explicit than we would like, but this is an explicit moment. I love this painting because of its subtle imagery. As Jesus is circumcised, he’s presented on a table/altar that itself bears a depiction of Abraham’s offering up of his son, Isaac. In Jesus, here is the one who will offer himself up as the perfect and obedient sacrifice. Here is the one to whom no hand will reach out to stay the cold blade of sin. He will drink the consequences of sin down to the dregs. He will shed satisfying blood.
The New Bible Dictionary says of circumcision that “The blood which is shed in circumcision does not express the desperate lengths to which a man must go in self-consecration, but the costly demand which God makes of those whom he calls to himself and marks with the sign of his covenant.” (pg. 210).
Well, think of that in connection to Jesus – to the end, he was perfectly obedient to every requirement of God’s Law and found perfect as God’s lamb, the acceptable sacrifice.
This is the power of Jesus’ name, most powerful name of all! Think of how powerful naming something can be. For instance, when someone we love receives a diagnosis of cancer, we don’t even want to name the thing itself, do we? We don’t even want to call it cancer! We don’t want to acknowledge its power and presence. But Jesus’ name is the name we cling to, and it’s the name we should confess daily and find more and more comfort in, the more we come to know him and grow up into his stature.
III. Shared Identity & a Common Name
Everything about our Lord’s first coming was ordinary and yet extraordinary.
He was born on the edge of civilization, in the house of bread (that’s what Bethlehem means), in a manger. He was received by the common, all while the rulers and teachers of his people refused to go out and meet him.
And that commonality, that ordinariness, went right down even into his very name. Yeshua was, in fact, an extremely common name in first-century Judaism. And yet, there is something rich and beautiful about that.
As someone who was fully human, Jesus blended in. He was part and parcel with his community. He was, in a sense, hidden in plain sight. He is one of us…and yet, as we know now, so much more.
Moreover, his common and extraordinary name, God’s salvation, means that he is for everyone. That everyone may come by baptism and faith, to be found in the name of Jesus.
Isn’t this part of why his name is so sweet to us? Because “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, … taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men?” (Philippians 2:7-8)
Today, we hear those who say of Jesus, ah, yes, but he was just a good teacher! And perhaps in a moment of “questioning evangelism” we might challenge them and say, are you sure about that? Do you know what it his name actually means? He is called “Jesus” for your sake.
(Parenthesis: the Feast of the Holy Name falls on January 1, a time when many are thinking about New Year’s resolutions and what we want to accomplish in the year ahead.
Holy Name points us in a different direction and gives us a different posture in all this. What if we began, not with a list of commitments (that we’ll probably soon break), but rather with our identity in Christ – in his name.
And what if we then continued, not with what we must accomplish, but with his finished work on our behalf, asking what do I want to do in response? In this church, we encourage believers to keep a Rule of Life all year long rather than make halting New Year commitments over and over again, and a Rule of Life begins with simply asking the question, in light of God’s grace, in light of Jesus, how is he calling me to order my life? Please talk to me if you would like resources on building a Rule of Life!)
IV. God’s Kingdom Come & the Eighth Day
Lastly, we want to notice that the very timing of Jesus’ naming and circumcision is incredibly significant. He was circumcised on the eighth day. In Scripture, the eighth day speaks of eternity and God’s new creation. Jesus did other things on the eighth day – like rise from the dead! For this reason, the early Christians were fond of calling the Lord’s Day an “eighth day” – a new creation.
So, here at Jesus’ naming, God’s kingdom is quietly entering into the world. The Old Covenant comes to a close, meaning the old way of being branded with God’s promises also ended in Jesus. The New Covenant is inaugurated, and people will now be branded by God by baptism and faith in Jesus himself (see John 3 for more on that).
Now you may say, Justin, where do you get all that?! Well, again, from the New Testament. St. Paul is explicit about this connection in the epistle to the Colossians:
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses. (Colossians 2:11-13)
In Jesus, promises made and future hopes find their end and God’s kingdom is now present in the world in a new way. We know his name – the name of the messiah, we rejoice in his salvation, with his new and living water poured upon us in the Holy Spirit, our very “hearts sprinkled clean…and our bodies washed with pure water,” as Hebrews 10:22 tells us.
I end with that wonderful hymn by William How, “Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love”
Jesus! Name of wondrous love,
Name all other names above,
Unto which must ev’ry knee
Bow in deep humility.
Jesus! Name decreed of old,
To the maiden mother told,
Kneeling in her lowly cell,
By the angel Gabriel.
Jesus! Name of priceless worth
To the fallen sons of earth
For the promise that it gave,
“Jesus shall His people save.”
Jesus! Name of mercy mild,
Given to the holy Child
When the cup of human woe
First He tasted here below.
Jesus! Only name that’s giv’n
Under all the mighty heav’n
Whereby those to sin enslaved
Burst their fetters and are saved.
Jesus! Name of wondrous love,
Human name of God above;
Pleading only this, we flee
Helpless, 0 our God, to Thee.
And so, would you join me in giving all the glory, all the honor, and all the praise, to God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for the wonderful name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.