Luke 2:21; 12:35-40
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I told Tennille that we had a service tonight, she asked, “Is that normal?” In other words, why are we having a service on New Year’s Eve? Well, we have conflicting impulses in the church year. Tonight, we would usually focus on the reminder that Jesus gives us in Luke 12 that no one knows when He will return, so His people should always remain watchful and awake. “Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36, ESV). With one eye on the work that we have been given to do, and one eye on the sky, we wait for our Lord to return. We can wait without fear or regret of the passing time, knowing that our God is Lord of times and seasons, and that He still rules His creation. And “blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37, ESV). He may come like a thief, that is, at a time we do not know, but He is no thief. He is our gracious Lord, who has bought us back with the price of His very life.
Tomorrow, eight days after Christmas, is the actual feast day of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus. The Gospel for that day is a single verse, Luke 2:21: “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.” Why do we celebrate that day? There are a number of reasons that could be given. Jesus was, as Galatians 4:4 says, born under the law. He fulfilled the Law of His Father to the very last, on our behalf. That is why Christians do not require circumcision. But Christians have always recognized that Jesus’ circumcision was more than just a custom. The blood that He shed on that day was a hint of what was to come, when He would bleed on the cross for the life of the world, and when He would give His blood for Christians to drink for the forgiveness of their sins.
But tonight I would like to focus briefly not on Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law, or on His shedding of blood, but on a third reason why we celebrate the eighth day after Jesus’ birth: His naming. As Luke 2:21 says, “he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” What’s in a name? What’s in your name? For the people who know you, your name brings to mind everything that they associate with you, whether-we might as well admit it-good or bad. To hear your name might conjure up a story: do you remember when Tim did that? Your name is your reputation. If someone speaks your name in connection with something shameful or dishonorable that you have done, and the story gets around, you may wish your name could be disconnected from you. But it can’t. Your name is who you are and what you do, at least for those who know you.
In the Scriptures, names are even more important and more closely associated with a person than they are today. For example, names actually mean what people are like or what they do. Take Jacob, whose name essentially means “cheater” or “deceiver.” God changes his name to Israel, which means “He strives with God,” because of the late-night wrestling match in Genesis 32. On the negative side, even though his name has nothing to do with his actions, I’m pretty sure I’ve never met anyone named Judas. Names can also tell us what God does for people. God tells Abram that his name will be Abraham, which means “father of many” (Genesis 17:5). And in the New Testament, Jesus calls Jonah’s son Simon Peter, which means “rock,” because it was on the confession Peter made that Jesus promised He would build His Church (Matthew 16:16-19). Clearly, names are important, both to people and to God.
When we speak the name of Jesus, we are not only praying or cursing; we are saying who He is and what He does, whether we mean to or not. The name Jesus or Joshua, which are both Yehoshua in Hebrew, is translated as “Yah[weh] is salvation.” And this is the whole point, this is the big picture for this season of Christmas, as well as for the whole Church year. Jesus, the One who accomplishes the salvation of Yahweh, is the point of your life and mine, and the point of the whole creation. At His name, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10). So it is appropriate to bow your head when you hear the name of Jesus in the liturgy, as, for example, in the Creed. You are showing that God has already given you faith to recognize Jesus as your Lord.
And how has this miracle happened, that you should know your Lord by name? Very simply, because He has already called you by name. “[T]hus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine'” (Isaiah 43:1, ESV). But by what name has He called you? By your own? That, in itself, would not make you His child. God calls you by your name in order to give you a new name. He says in Isaiah 43 that He will gather “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (v. 7). That is why you are baptized into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Your Father no longer sees the sin that is smeared across your name. He does not see whatever dishonor or shame is connected to your name. Instead, He sees you under the perfect, spotless Name of Jesus, by which you have been marked forever. And now your name and His are bound up together forever in God’s story of salvation. Indeed, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, ESV). On the day you stand before His Father in the Judgment, your only hope is faith that trusts in the name of Jesus on your lips. Because His name is on your lips, your name will be on His lips (Revelation 3:5).
Dear people of God, we have gathered here on the eve of the year of our Lord, 2008, to do what the people of God always do when they gather: to hear His Word that bears fruit in our lives; to receive the perfect Body and holy Blood of His Son; and to praise Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). The end of each year is a reminder that the end of the world is coming. But, even as a new year is on its way, a new world is coming, and within that new world is a City, with a River, and the Tree of Life. “The leaves of the tree [are] for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the city], and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:2b-5, ESV). We will worship Him. We will see His face, and His Name will be on our foreheads. No matter what this coming year holds for you, you can be sure that you are never beyond the reach of your God. He has called you by name; you are His. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.