Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The gift of a name. . .

Sermon for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, preached on Sunday, January 1, 2023.

We have made a travesty of names.  We think by giving a child a unique name we will help them stand out in our cookie cutter world.  What fools we are.  Instead, we simply saddle our children with something nobody gets, no one can spell, and everyone will wrestle with right up to the day when someone will have to chisel its letters into a tombstone.  We think that a name will really make a difference in the life of the child.  If we give them a good name, they just may succeed but if we give them the wrong one, we doom them to failures.  How ridiculous we are!  It is not the name but the person who wears it.

God did not entrust the name of Jesus to Blessed Mary and faithful Joseph.  He did not give them a chance to honor good old uncle Claude or to misspell a common name to make it unique.  God told them what they would name Him because He would fulfill that name.  That was the plan from the beginning – just as it had been with John who was the Forerunner of Christ.  But there is the rub.  We think Jesus is a special name – a name unique to the Savior who wore it.  If we were Latin American we might not think this.  Jesus is there a common name and ordinary.  But if we were Hebrew we would also be deprived of the notion that it was the name that was unique.

Mary and Joseph did not name Him Jesus.  Jesus is a Greek form of an Aramaic and Hebrew name that also made a pit stop through Latin before ending up in English.  When Mary and Joseph spoke to Him, He was Yeshu’a and the people around Him knew Him as Yeshu’a Ben Joseph – Joshua, son of Joseph.  Now some have gotten all bent out of shape about the journey of Yeshu’a to Jesus but this is not like an incantation where pronunciation counts.  We confess the Savior and not simply the name.  He wears the name not because it is unique but because He uniquely fulfills its promise.  Yeshu’a and therefore Jesus mean “He will save or deliver His people.”  And that is the reason why the name is important.

Names are important, mind you.  If you recognize a family member or friend across a crowded room, calling out “Hey you” will do little to get them to look at you.  But calling out the name changes everything.  Our ears are tuned to our names.  God is tuned to hear the name of His Son and that is why we pray it.
Even more than simply being tuned to hear His name, our Lord fulfills that name.  Like the Joshua of old who led the people of God’s promise into the land of promise God had prepared for them, Jesus, the new Joshua, leads the captive from the captivity of our sin into the promised land of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Jesus is therefore greater than Joshua and not simply like Him.  Our Lord fulfills the whole promise of that name.  He is not simply the Savior long promised but God our Savior.  Joshua comes from two words – from the name of God that we know as Yahweh and the verb meaning to save.  Jesus is the God who saves.  But He is not the God who saves because He has the name or because He says this is what He will do, He is the God who saves because this is what He has done.

On the eighth day, He is circumcised and first shed His blood in fulfillment of the Law and to keep the promise of God that He would become His people’s Savior.  The blood of circumcision was the precursor of the blood that would flow from His pierced hands and feet and from His side.  It is the same blood, spilled for the same purpose – to redeem those born under the Law from their sin from which they cannot save themselves.  That is the power of the Name – not as a miracle word but as the Word made flesh, who for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit into the womb of the Virgin, born to live in righteousness and to die in obedience so that the unrighteous and disobedient would have a Savior and a name to call upon and be saved.

In that name is our access – not so different from the kind of access the sharing of a name gives to people so that strangers can become friends.  The name of our Lord is an efficacious name – what the One who wears that name has accomplished is accessible in the confession of that name.  It is the name under heaven and on earth by which any who will be saved are saved.  It is the name that causes our knees to bow (as I genuflect in the creed) and every tongue proclaim.  It is the name written upon us in our baptism so that He can say of you and me – You are mine.  It is the name that we cry out in prayer in trouble and offer up in thanksgiving when we recount the mercies new every morning.

There is salvation in that Name.  But there is also a promise.  Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.  Just as an earthly father cannot fail to hear the voice of his children, God cannot fail to hear prayers in Jesus’ name.  So the name of Jesus is the name we confess, the name we praise, the name we pray, and the name that bids us come and eat and drink.  And in a few moments, we will depart those doors with the name of our Lord placed upon us in blessing.  Because God has fulfilled the promise of that name and His Son has delivered up a people to the Father, cleansed by His blood, rescued from death, and covered in righteousness, we name that name in worship, praise, in time of trouble, and in prayer.

Luke gives us a hint of all of this in the Catechism.  Do not misuse the name of the Lord Your God.  Indeed, as Luther taught us, “We should fear and love and trust in God that we do not curse, sear, use the ways of Satan, lie or deceive by God’s name but call upon it in every trouble , pray, praise, and give thanks.”  If you do this, you have the full saving benefit of that name to bless you because the one who wears that name has fulfilled all of its promise – from a baby boy circumcised on the eighth day to the Savior hanging upon the cross to the Lord of glory returning to claim all that He won.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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