Luke 2:21 / Name and Circumcision of Our Lord / 01 January 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
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. Luke 2:21
It’s one little verse in Luke. Easily overlooked in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth and infancy. But the verse demonstrates Luke’s attention to detail. Up until this verse, he does not refer to Jesus by name. In Bethlehem’s manger he is simply a baby, a swaddled newborn with no name. When the shepherds visit, they don’t ask what most people ask when a child is born, “What’s his name?” He didn’t have a name a week ago, until today. Today He gets His name Jesus, and with His name He gets the mark of the covenant: circumcision.
It’s really an odd day. The Name and Circumcision of Our Lord. While the rest of the world is nursing it’s new year’s hangover and wishing one another “Happy New Year!” and settling in for some college bowl games and parades, the Church sets aside January 1, the eight day of Christmas, to celebrate the Name and the Circumcision of Jesus. And unless you are Jewish by background, this seems like a really weird thing to celebrate.
We’re not sure precisely when the naming custom came in, though clearly it was observed at the time of Jesus. The 8th day is prescribed in the Levitical law. There was no notion of waiting until the child was old enough to decide for himself. There was no sense of an age of accountability or any such thing. On the eighth day of every baby boy born in Israel, he received the sign of the covenant and became a son of the covenant, an Israelite. And with his identity, he now gets a name.
And so it went with Jesus, as it went with every baby boy born in Israel. He is given the name Y’shua, Jesus. Yahweh is salvation, “for He will save His people from their sins.” And how will He accomplish this? How will be save His people from their sins? By becoming obedient to the Law, by becoming a son of the covenant, by becoming an Israelite, by shedding His blood under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law, those held captive by sin and death. This is precisely why the Son of God became Flesh and was born. He was “born of a woman, born under Law, to redeem those under the Law.” And here is His first act of obedience.
The sweet little Christmas lullaby speculates, “but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” I doubt that was true when He laid in a manger. I doubly doubt it was true on the eighth day when He experiences in His own infant flesh what it means to be “under the Law.” Think of this as a prelude to the cross. “Neither crib nor cross refusing, all He suffers for your good. To redeem you by His blood.”
In order to understand this day and the significance of Jesus’ circumcision, you need to understand fully who Jesus is as the Incarnate Son. He is the second Adam. He’s all of humanity in one Person. He is the Stand-in for the entire human race, and He embodies all of humanity in His own body.
The apostle Paul works this out for us in his letter to the Colossians. Now this is a point that many people miss entirely, so listen closely and try to catch what he’s saying:
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 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, 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. (Col 2:9-12)
What’s Paul saying? First, that in Jesus the fullness of divinity dwells bodily. That means that even that even as an 8 day old baby boy, Jesus if fully God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Fully divine as well as fully human. And that union of divinity with humanity makes some things possible that otherwise would be impossible of a human being. It means that He is able to embrace others into Himself so that what happens to Him also happens to them in Him. It also means that He, though He may be a helpless Baby or a dying Man on a cross, is the Head of all rule and authority, and being the Head, He embodies the whole creation and all of humanity in Himself.
Now if you get that, then you get the next sentence. In Him, all of you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands in the circumcision of Christ. That includes the boys and the girls. And it wasn’t done on you, it was done on Jesus, and being done on Jesus you were included. In other words, you might say that when Christ was circumcised and became a son of Israel, so did you in Him. And that’s why circumcision became a free thing in the New Testament, something completely free, optional, and religiously unnecessary. It’s because when Jesus was circumcised, the whole world became a Jew.
You also see what it represented – the putting off of the body of the flesh, the mortification of the old Adam. Adam has to die. Our adamic flesh needs to be put off. Circumcision signified that. And there’s more. You were buried with Christ in Baptism. So not only did you become an Israelite in Christ, you were also joined to Him in His death and burial through Holy Baptism. And even more. You were raised with Him through faith. And if I may borrow a bit from Colossians 3, you are even exalted, seated and glorified at the right hand of God in Christ. Always in Christ. Don’t forget that. You are still in you, in this body of death, in this old Adam that needs to be threatened, punished, disciplined, and bribed to do the will and works of God. But you are you are in Christ are perfectly free, perfectly alive, justified, sanctified, and even glorified in Christ.
Today two gifts of Christ are extolled: His obedience under the Law and His Name. His obedience is precisely the undoing of Adam’s sin. As Adam brought all of humanity into Sin and Death, so Jesus takes all of humanity into justification and life. As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive. He kept the Law perfectly in your place. He filled the Law to overflowing with Himself. And that perfect obedience is yours, your clothing, your covering, your justification before God. God has done justice to your sin in the flesh of Jesus, and for His sake, and His sake alone, you stand before God as though you hadn’t sinned and Adam hadn’t sinned.
Now that doesn’t translate into your doing nothing. You do nothing for your salvation. You do nothing to earn God’s favor. You do nothing to be justified before God. But you are free to be who you really are in Christ, you are free to do the goodness and mercy of God for your neighbor, for those around you. You are free to lay down your life in service of others, not to please God nor to earn His favor and forgiveness, but because in Christ it’s already all yours and you have nothing in this world left to lose.
Oh, if we’d only believe this, it would really be a happy new year, regardless of what happens.
The second gift of this eighth day of Christmas is Jesus’ name. The name that is “above every name.” An ordinary, common human name. (There were lots of babies named Y’shua in Israel.) But joined to His divinity, that name becomes the uniquely saving name, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we are saved.
With HIs Name comes the promise of His presence, that where two or three are gathered in His Name, there He is in their midst. With His Name comes the mandate to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth. With His Name is the promise of prayer, that whatever you ask in His Name, HIs Father and your Father in heaven will grant it. With His Name is the promise of forgiveness, of life, of salvation, of peace.
The changing of the calendar and the start of a new year is really more of a numeric convention than anything else. We have to get used to writing 2012 instead of 2011. I still haven’t really adjusted to the “20” part. The new year reads pretty much like a blank piece of paper waiting to be filled with some event, whether good, bad, or perhaps even ugly. In the Bible, the new year was not really a major event since Israel operated on a lunar calendar, so the new year was more of a convention. The day and the week were much better defined, and, in my estimation, a much better way to live. We can wrap our minds around days and weeks. Years just seem to slip by, and we don’t really notice until we’ve come to the beginning of another one.
The Mayan calendar ran out at 2012, or so we’re being told. That’s about as significant as the fact that the dates of Easter run out at 2050 in our hymnal. It’s a presidential election year, so we can brace ourselves for another season of promises, expectations, and mud-slinging amounting to much ado about little to nothing. For our congregation, 2012 is our 50th year of gathering together around Word and sacrament, so at least we can look forward to that party.
None of us knows what the new year will bring in terms of health, wealth and love. The days and the seasons are the Lord’s, and everything we do always has “If the Lord be willing” written across it as James rightly says.
But we do know this and have it as our certainty in the midst of uncertainty: We have Jesus’ obedience under the Law, His perfect righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. And we have His Name, the Name by which we are saved, “for He will save His people from their sins.”
In the name of Jesus,