“Circumcision and Name Both Say ‘Savior'” (Luke 2:21)

Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Sunday, January 1, 2012

“Circumcision and Name Both Say ‘Savior’” (Luke 2:21)

Today is New Year’s Day, a day for looking forward to the year that lies ahead. It’s a day for plans and goals and New Year’s resolutions. “This is the year, finally, when I will get my weight under control, or when I will start exercising more regularly, or when I start being more faithful in my daily devotions.” All well and good. These can be good goals to have. January 1, 2012. This is also a day when we begin a new chapter in the life of our church. How is this dual-parish thing going to work out? How will we have to adjust to make it work? This is a day, New Year’s Day, for looking ahead to our family’s future. Will we have enough money this year as a family, as a household? Do we need to do better on our budget? And what about our nation? This is an election year, 2012 is. How will the elections affect our future?

Maybe all of these things fill us with fear and trepidation, at what might happen. Maybe they fill us with some degree of hope and optimism, that there could be some improvement ahead. Maybe it’s a mixed bag. The future is always an uncertain thing.

But there is one thing that is certain, no matter the day or the year. And that is, who will see us through the days and years ahead. It is none other than the good God himself, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our God will see us through. In him we have hope and confidence to face the future, come what may. And now today I want to tell you why you can be sure of his help. It’s based upon what else this day is, besides being New Year’s Day.

Today is the eighth day of Christmas, and therefore it is the day when the church celebrates two events that go together, the circumcision of our Lord and the giving of his name, Jesus. Both of these events happened on the same day, this day, the eighth day, exactly one week after the birth of Christ. Both of these events, the circumcision and the naming, are recorded in the Holy Gospel for today, which is the shortest Gospel reading in the whole series of readings. It’s just one 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.” Just one verse, but it speaks volumes. For both Christ’s circumcision and his very name, Jesus, tell us much about who he is–who he is for us. And so our theme today: “Circumcision and Name Both Say ‘Savior.’”

Let’s start with the name. The name given to this baby boy on this day was “Jesus.” But really, the name was given to him months earlier, more than nine months earlier, when he was conceived. The angel Gabriel announced the birth of this child to be born to his mother Mary, and Gabriel told her, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” So this is telling us that not only the child’s birth, his miraculous birth, was arranged by God, but God even picked out his name, Jesus.

Furthermore, the man who would marry Mary, Joseph, who would legally adopt this child by giving him his name–Joseph was likewise told by an angel how to name the baby: “You shall call his name Jesus,” the angel said. Then the angel explained why the child would have that name. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Now to us, maybe it’s not so evident why “saving his people from their sins” would be the reason for naming the child Jesus. But it does make sense if you know the meaning of the name. The name Jesus is a Hebrew name, and in Hebrew it’s “Yeshua,” or, in its full form, “Yehoshua,” “Joshua.” The name Yehoshua literally means “Yahweh saves,” that is, “The Lord saves.” So you see, by giving the child this name, God is also telling us what this child will do, what his mission in life would be. And that is, to be the Savior. The name Jesus literally means “Savior.” His name is also his job description.

Jesus. Savior. But to save, from what? To save the Jews from the Romans, is that why this baby Messiah came? No, he’s got a bigger mission than that. What you and I need saving from, most of all, is from our own sins. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Now most people don’t think that that’s their biggest problem. But it is. For your sins are putting you in danger, grave danger, literally. Without someone to save you, your sins would damn you, damn you to death and to hell forever. You need rescuing, and you’re not strong enough to pull yourself out of the death-grip that sin has on you. Someone stronger has to do it. And that someone is the Lord himself. Jesus. “The Lord is Savior,” that’s what his name tells you. It’s this child, God in the flesh, the incarnate Son of God, the one with that sweetest of names, Jesus.

So that’s what the name of this one-week old infant tells you about him, that he is your Savior, the one you absolutely need. But now, how he is going to do this saving work? That’s where the other part of what we’re celebrating on this day comes in, namely, the circumcision of our Lord. Circumcision–obviously, this pertains only to a baby boy. All baby boys born to the Jewish people–all of them were to be circumcised on the eighth day. The practice was started with Abraham, in the covenant that the Lord established with the patriarch Abraham, and it was later codified in the Law of Moses. Eighth day, baby boy, you have him circumcised, it’s part of the Lord’s covenant with his people Israel.

But why? What does this practice signify? That the Lord would choose to establish this particular practice as a sign in Israel is truly significant. That God would need to place a sign just there, in that part of the body, is telling us that the sin passed down from generation to generation from our first father, Adam–that God himself would need to deal with our inherited, Adamic sinful nature. Original sin, the sinful nature from which all of our actual sins spring. The sin that infects our souls and brings death to our bodies. God must cut our sin away, in order for us to be his people. And it would involve the shedding of blood.

And so now we can see what the cutting away of the foreskin foreshadowed. What was circumcision pointing ahead to that would be fulfilled in Christ? What did this ancient practice, given to Abraham, prophesy about Abraham’s ultimate son of promise, Jesus? The circumcision of Christ–what does the first shedding of his blood, on this day, what does it tell us about him and what he’s coming to do? Like with the name, so also with the circumcision. Christ’s circumcision is telling us, “Savior.”

For it is through the shedding of his holy blood that Jesus would live up to his name of “Savior.” He would do the saving through the bleeding. It starts on this day, and it will end at the cross. As he was going to that cross, Christ, come on his saving mission, would sweat drops of blood, in agony, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then when he is arrested and beaten, flogged with a whip and crowned with thorns, there is more blood. Nailed to the cross, hands and feet, pierced in the side–this Jesus, the Savior–the Son of God sheds his holy blood precisely for people like you and me, sinners. Jesus, the Savior. We, the sinners in need of the saving. And now, by the blood of Jesus, now we are the saved. We are the forgiven, our sins paid for by his holy precious blood. And Jesus gets on this blood-shedding, saving mission right away, even as a baby, eight days old.

Now do you see why we need not fear the future? Because we have a Savior. If Christ is your Savior–and he is–your future, your big future, your eternal future, is absolutely secure. Death, disease, a bad economy, uncertain circumstances–none of that can shake your salvation. If Christ is your Savior–if God cared enough even to pick out his name in advance, just so you could know you that have this Savior–then God will surely care for you, day by day, through all the unpleasant circumstances of this life. You have a Savior who has fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets for you, who came in the flesh for you, who shed his holy blood for you, all the way from his circumcision to the cross, and you know his name.

So today is New Year’s Day, a day for thinking about the future. And your future is bright indeed, dear Christian. For this is also the eighth day, the day of the circumcision and the naming of our Lord. His name is Jesus. It means “Savior.” This Jesus shed his blood for you, starting today at his circumcision. Yes, circumcision and name, when we’re talking about Jesus, both say “Savior.”

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Published in: on December 31, 2011 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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