History is written in the details. The Christmas narrative we heard last week comes to us straight from Luke’s historically precise pen, chock full of details – Joseph and Mary, a tax census of Caesar Augustus when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Bethlehem and the crowded inn and the stable. An angel preaching and heavenly choirs singing “Glory to God in the highest.” Shepherds hearing and seeing and telling. All of it focused on that little newborn baby lying in the manger.
If you listened carefully to that familiar narrative, your ears would have caught the historian’s detail. No one but Mary and Joseph know the baby’s name. And they’re not telling. Luke withholds the information until today’s Gospel verse. For seven days, He’s simply Mary’s first-born, a baby boy, lying in a manger. For the name, you have to wait another week until today and our one verse Gospel for the 8th day of Christmas, January 1st, the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.
The custom in Jesus’ day was to name the boy on the day of his circumcision, the 8th day of his life. That was God’s commandment given to Abraham and established through Moses, “as a sign of the covenant between me and you.” The name part was a little custom added later. Nice touch – God claims you and names you. Why not the 7th day or the 17th year when the boy could make up his own mind and choose for himself? That’s not the way it works with the Lord. You don’t make Him your Lord; He declares Himself to be your Lord and places His mark of ownership on you. You don’t choose and claim Him; He chooses and claims you.
Infant circumcision was YHWH’s unique sign for His Israel. Other nations had the sign, but it was usually at puberty, a right of passage into adult manhood. But this was a sign of the covenant, God’s promise, that through the seed of Abraham, all nations of the world would be blessed by a Savior, the Christ to come. Jesus too, receives the sign of the covenant. Again, the mystery of the incarnation is there for us to ponder: the Lord of all receives circumcision on behalf of all.
Circumcision declared you to be a “son of the covenant.” Jesus is the ultimate “son of the covenant,” whose obedience in life and death fulfills the old covenant, whose blood shed on the cross brings a “new covenant,” the one the prophet Jeremiah spoke of: “I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sins no more.”
We might be tempted to discard all of this as that “crude, bloody, primitive religion” of the OT. That would be a grave error on our part. In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul writes this intriguing sentence: “For in Him (that is, in Christ), the whole fulness of the deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” In other words, in Christ, you have it all – the fulness of God and the fulness of your life. Everything. Then he goes on to say this: “In Him (that is, in Christ) you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of the Christ.”
What that means is that Christ’s circumcision is also your circumcision. In Him, not in yourselves and not in your flesh, but in Jesus and His flesh, you were circumcised in His circumcision, though no one laid a hand on you. In other words, and here’s the point of it all: In Christ you are a perfect Jew who fulfills the entire Law of Moses. You are a faithful, perfect “son of the covenant.” Even if you’re female, for “in Christ,” there is neither male nor female, but you are all “sons” and therefore all “heirs.”
Let’s put that into somewhat more practical terms. You and I are natural born sinners, children of Adam. No news there. We are hell-bent on sinning. Self-centered, wanting to be gods, struggling to be in control. Oh, we’ll make some new year’s resolutions to try and be better people this year, but that lasts about as long as last year’s diet and exercise program. Good intentions, not much follow through. Now that’s not to say we shouldn’t try. We should daily drown the old Adam in Baptism. We should daily struggle against the lusts of the sinful nature. We should daily put off the old person in Adam and put on the new person in Christ. But nothing we do is going to achieve that perfection God requires under the Law when He says “Be holy for I, YHWH your God am holy.” “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
How’s your perfection and holiness lately? It’s only one day into the new year, so how bad can it be? Or were you actually glad when they said this morning, “Let us go to the house of the Lord?” How do you think it’s going to go with your worship, your honoring of God’s name and Word, your lusts, your greed, your idolatries, your love of neighbor (especially those “neighbors” you didn’t pick)? What about gossip, envy, strife, and that most American of all sins – coveting (yes, wanting all that stuff you didn’t get last week and more of it)?
It’s not there, is it – that perfection, that holiness you must have to deal with God?
But there’s a flip side this demand for holiness and perfection, one that isn’t intuitively obvious, and that the religions of the world all miss. God gives out for free what He demands in His Law. God’s people are holy, because God is holy. They are perfect, because He is perfect. They are righteous, because He is righteous. They are all these things not because they’ve managed to pull off the impossible, but because God grants it all for Jesus’ sake. He imputes it, reckons it, chalks it up to their account. He takes what is Jesus’, and makes it yours in Jesus.
That’s the significance of this day of Jesus’ circumcision. Jesus does the Law perfectly, every commandment, and His perfection is yours by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. He bears the pain, the suffering, the blood the Law demands of the substitute, the vicarious victim. And you receive forgiveness, life, and salvation by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. You are all sons of the covenant, heirs of life, true offspring of Abraham, all thanks to this 8 day old YHWH in the flesh who bears the sign of God’s promise. You might put it this way: You are all perfect Jews in Jesus, the one perfect Jew who kept the Torah down its smallest mark and letter.
With the sign in the flesh, also comes the name. Remember David’s first son with Bathsheba, the one conceived in their adultery? He was seven days old when he died, one day short of his circumcision day; and he had no name. Now on His eighth day, Mary’s Child receives the Name spoken by the angel – Jesus.
Jesus is a perfectly ordinary human name. Any carpenter from Nazareth might have been named Jesus. It’s the same as the name Joshua. Isaiah. It means “YHWH is salvation” or “YHWH saves.” Jesus literally “does” what His Name says. He actually is YHWH is the flesh come to save, embracing our humanity, revealing the Deity. The infinite eternal Word has come to dwell with us bodily, in human flesh and blood. The mysterious Name of YHWH has taken on a human face and a human name, the name Jesus.
This is the Name that causes controversy, scandal, offense. This is the Name that causes kings to tremble and judges to judge and legislatures to legislate. This is the name that sets the ACLU on edge. This is the Name that may not be uttered in the public square lest unbelievers be offended. No other Name causes such a stir.
This is the only Name there is under heaven, put on our lips, by which we are saved. This is the Name that is above every name of God. Higher even than the name YHWH (or Jehovah, as those seriously mistaken folks knocking at your door are witnesses to), this is YHWH come to embrace fallen humanity, come to be with us. It is the Name that causes devils to flee, the Name by which prayer is heard, the Name by which God in the flesh is known, the name by which we are saved. It doesn’t get any higher or greater than the humble name Jesus – YHWH in flesh come to save us.
You were washed, sanctified (made holy), justified (declared righteous), in the Name of Jesus. You are gathered here, in the Name of Jesus, with the promise that where two or three are gathered in His Name He will be present with them to forgive and to raise them up from death and give them eternal life – all in His name.
This is the Name to which every knee will one day bow, and every tongue will one day confess “Jesus Christ is Lord,” either with joy or sorrow, either as good news or bad, either to salvation in faith or to condemnation in unbelief. There’s no neutral ground when it comes to the name Jesus. Even to confess the name of Jesus is itself a gift, for no one who has the Spirit can deny Jesus and say “Jesus be cursed” and no one can confess “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
Today we are given to ponder this great and wonderful mystery: an 8 day old child bears the name Jesus in all its fulness. YHWH in the flesh come to save. This little Child bears the Law for you, sheds His blood and His tears for you. This little child, so weak and helpless and vulnerable, so ordinary, like any other baby boy born in Israel is your Maker, your Redeemer, your Lord and your Christ. What happens to Him, also happens to you in Him, in His Name.
He is your perfection, your holiness, your atonement from sin, your resurrection from the dead, your life.
Today, Christmas has a name to hang your faith on – Jesus.
In the Name of Jesus,