Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Your name is Christian

Sermon for the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on New Year's Eve, s0215.

Names are very important to us. We name everything: roads, buildings, statues, pets, and even our cars. Everything has its own name and it becomes synonymous with that name. This is especially true for us and our names. Our names our foundational to who we are. A lot of discussion and consideration takes place when parents decide on what they’ll name their children. It’s of utmost importance that they give them the right name, because that’ll be who they are, it’ll identify them for the rest of their lives.

I. Parents choose names for many different reasons. Some pick a name because they like the way it sounds. Others name their child after someone they admire, like a professional athlete or a movie star. Some name them after a close friend or relative. This would’ve been the case for John the Baptist. At his circumcision and naming celebration, the people wanted to give him the name Zechariah, after his father (Lk 1:59). Sometimes parents give their child a certain name because of that name’s meaning. For example, Isaac, which means “he laughs,” was given this name because when Sarah gave birth to him in her old age, she praised the Lord and said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Gn 21:6).

Names traditionally had meanings. They told you something about that person. Isaac’s name told you that his birth was a joyous one and a blessing from God. Our last names are a great example of this, or at least they were. At one point in history, a person’s last name told you their occupation. If you were a Baker, that meant you baked. If you were a Miller, you milled; and if you were a Smith, then you smithed. Jesus’ name is very much like these last names, because His name tells us what He does.

The name Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “the LORD is salvation.” The names Jesus and Joshua were very popular amongst the believing people during Jesus’ time. However, only in this Son of Mary was the meaning of this name being fulfilled. Jesus’ name and purpose go together. His identity and work go hand in hand. The name “Jesus” tells us why this Child was born. In Matthew’s gospel, we hear the angel tell Joseph that he is to give Mary’s child the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). And He accomplished this work with His perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross.

II. Jesus life was a perfect life. Never once was He in the wrong. He submitted to all of God’s Law; He fulfilled it all, including being circumcised on the eighth day. In Genesis 17, God made a covenant with Abram, a promise. He gave Abram a new name, Abraham, and He promised to make him the father of a multitude of nations, to give him and his offspring the land of Canaan, and to be their God (Gn 17:4-8). Within this great promise was the promise of the Savior, the one who would save all of God’s people. As a sign of this covenant, as a reminder of God’s promise, God commanded that every male, eight days old and up, be circumcised.

This law of circumcision continued throughout the generations, and Jesus submitted to it. He submitted to this law and to the rest of God’s Law. He obeyed all of the 10 Commandments, in His actions and in His thoughts. He always lived according to God’s will. Jesus loved God the Father with all His heart, with all His soul, with all His strength, and with all His mind, and He loved His neighbors as Himself (Lk 10:27). For us this is impossible, because we’re sinful by nature, we’re born with original sin. But Christ wasn’t. He wasn’t born in a natural way, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, He is true God and true man; and therefore He was born sinless. And yet, even though He was sinless, He still willingly submitted to the Law.

Jesus had to do this in order to fulfill His name, to accomplish His work of salvation. He had to submit to the Law so that He could atone for your sin, to pay the penalty for it, to be your substitute on the cross. If Christ didn’t do this, if He didn’t submit to the Law, if He wasn’t sinless, His sacrifice would be completely useless. It would do you no good. His death would be no different from the death of any other person. But, because He willingly submitted to God’s Law, because He was sinless and lived the perfect life that is required of you, He is the perfect substitute. His sacrifice is pleasing to God, His life is a vicarious satisfaction. His perfect life is credited to you. Jesus Christ, without sin, became your sin-bearer. He shed His blood so that you can be declared innocent and named as one of God’s people.

III. The rite of circumcision was completely counter cultural. It was something unheard of and it goes against our basic reasoning. But God used it for His purpose. Through this rite, God brought an eight day old infant boy into His people. It marked the boy as one who would receive God’s promises. In circumcision, males received a permanent and visible sign of God’s promise to send a Savior. No Hebrew man could live a day without being reminded of this promise that God made long before to Abraham.

Today, God continues to remind us of this promise, and its fulfillment in Jesus. Today, God continues to bring us into His people, not with the rite of circumcision, but through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

St. Paul, in his letters to the Colossians, connects circumcision and baptism. He writes, “In [Christ] 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 work of God, who raised him from the dead” (Co2:11-12). In your baptism, your sin has been circumcised, it has been cut away, and you’ve been raised with Christ. In those waters, you receive all the benefits of what Christ has done for you; your sins are forgiven, you’re given saving faith in Him, and you receive everlasting life. At that font, you’ve been baptized into Christ and put Him on (Gal 3:27). As the pastor poured water over your head saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Christ’s name is put upon you, God adopts you as one of His children. He makes you one of Abraham’s offspring, and therefore an heir of God’s promises to him, an heir of everlasting life through your Savior. And just like how God gave Abram the new name Abraham, your Father gives you a new name. You’re given the name Christian. Names identify us and tell others who we are. In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism God gives you a new name. In those saving waters THE NAME OF YOUR SAVIOR IS PLACED UPON YOU, you’re called Christian, and this name is with you every day; it identifies you for the rest of your life. It identifies you as one who has been clothed with Jesus’ righteousness, washed clean in His blood. It identifies you as one who trusts in Jesus life, death, and resurrection. It identifies you as a child of God who has everlasting life in Him. In Jesus’ name...Amen.

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