The First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2018
What’s In a Name?
Dear fellow worshipers of the Christ-Child,
What’s in a name? In our modern-day American culture there usually isn’t a great deal of significance attached to a person’s name. Take for example the name Steve. By itself that name doesn’t carry a great deal of significance. In the right context, however, that ordinary name can take on a great deal of significance. For example, up until my Mom was called home to heaven, if someone handed her the phone and said, “It’s Stevie,” that name automatically carried a certain amount of significance for her. One of the privileges I now get to enjoy is walking into a room where my grandchildren are playing, have them stop what they are doing and run across a room saying, “Papa Steve! Papa Steve!” By itself the name Steve does not carry a great deal of significance to it. In certain contexts, however, a relatively common name does have a great deal of significance.
You undoubtedly know where I am going with this, my friends— especially if you have looked ahead to see that our text for today is a single verse of Scripture. Our text for this morning is Luke 2:21, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” Our goal on this weekend that we celebrate entering into a brand new year is to see how this seemingly insignificant event gives us an eternally important answer to the question: What’s In a Name?
First, a little history is in order. When father Abram was seventy-five years old the Lord called him to leave his country, to leave his people, to leave his father’s household behind and go to a country that God would show to him. That’s when the Lord first established a covenant relationship with Abram. In that covenant relationship God revealed that one of Abram’s descendants would be the Promised Messiah. Part of that covenant relationship was God’s promise that one day He would give to Abram’s descendants the land of Canaan— which then became known as the Promised Land. (See Genesis 12) Twenty-four years later, when Abram was ninety-nine years old, God confirmed His covenant with Abram by changing his name from Abram (which means exalted father) to Abraham (which means father of many nations). At that time God also gave to Abraham an outward sign of the covenant that God had established with him— the Rite of Circumcision. Every male descendant of Abraham now had to be circumcised when he was eight days old. Circumcision became the sign that a male descendant of Abraham had been brought into a covenant relationship with the Lord, the one and only living God. (See Genesis 17)
Luke then proclaims to us here in our text that approximately 2,000 years later, in faithful obedience to the Law of their God, Joseph and Mary had their eight day old Son circumcised and officially named Him Jesus— “the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” What to most people seemed like a relatively common — albeit important— ceremony took on eternal significance when that name was given to that Child! The eternal significance of that Child receiving that name is very clearly brought out in Matthew 1:21 when the angel said to Joseph in a dream, “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus very literally means, “The LORD saves!”
Let’s take a moment to reflect on what that means, my friends. Circumcision was the outward sign of the covenant that the Lord had established with Abraham some 2,000 years before Jesus was born. In that covenant God promised Abraham that one of his descendants would be the Messiah, this world’s only Savior from sin. Included in that covenant was the gift of the Promised Land. Do you see where I am going with this?
While the name Jesus was a relatively common name among Abraham’s descendants when that name was given to the Child of Bethlehem on the eight day after His birth now that ordinary name took on extraordinary significance— eternal significance! In fulfillment of God’s promises— first given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, then carried on through men such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— in fulfillment of God’s promises Jesus came into this world to not only fulfill the covenant which God had established with Abraham, but also to establish a new covenant with you and me! Both the old covenant and the new covenant were focused on the very same goal— the complete forgiveness of all of our sins. Both the old covenant and the new covenant included the gift of a “Promised Land.”
For over 2,000 years the Old Testament Rite of Circumcision brought a tiny little baby into this special covenant relationship with the Lord. But what about now? How does God bring a child into a covenant relationship with Him today? Now in the New Testament era God has given to us the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. When a child is baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), the Lord God Himself washes away all of their sins and “puts His name” on them. He “adopts” them to be His very own and writes their name in the Book of Life. (See Revelation 20:11-15; 21:27). In other words, through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism even the youngest child becomes a “Christian.” At the very same time this new covenant relationship grants that child the privilege of inheriting their heavenly Father’s home— the Promised Land of heaven. And let’s not forget that this glorious covenant relationship that God established with us at the time of our Christian Baptism is both expressed and affirmed each and every time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus Himself reminds us of this truth when He says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25).
Right about now you might be wondering: How does all of this tie in with the fact that we are about to enter into a brand new year? I think there are two answers to that question. First, through the power of the Holy Spirit working in Word and Sacrament you and I have been given the name Christian. As we gather together here in God’s house today, this is a very good time for us to look back over the year 2018 and ask ourselves the very important question, “How well did I live up the to the covenant name that God Himself gave to me when He adopted me to be His own dear child?” Since I can only speak for myself, I will confess that that there were times when I did not do very well when it came to living up to the privilege of having the name Christian. Thankfully, we have the privilege of receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion on a regular basis. Through this holy Sacrament God Himself promises me that purely by His grace my sins are forgiven and I am His child. My encouragement to you, my friends, is that every time you prepare your hearts to receive the Lord’s Supper that you take a moment to remember that the promises of God hold just as true for you as they do for me.
The second way in which this text ties in with our service today is by pointing us ahead to the New Year. As Christians we can look forward to the year 2019 with the confidence of knowing that it is indeed a brand new year! By God’s grace and with God’s guidance we can leave our past behind us and enter into the New Year with a “clean slate” so to speak. By God’s grace and with God’s guidance the New Year gives us the opportunity to live up to the name we were given at the time of our Baptism— the name Christian. By God’s grace and with God’s guidance the New Year gives us the opportunity to let our lives openly proclaim to the people around us that we are in a special covenant relationship the with one and only true God— a covenant relationship which is founded on the forgiveness that the Child of Bethlehem won for us on the cross (Pointing to the cross), a covenant relationship which guarantees that we will inherit the Promised Land of heaven.
What’s in a name? The answer to that question depends greatly on the context, doesn’t it? By itself the name Steve has very little significance to it. In certain contexts, however, the name Steve does have at least some significance. By itself the name Jesus was simply a name that many of the descendants of Abraham gave to their sons. While that name did indeed express their faith in the fact that “The LORD saves” it was still just a name— that is, until that name was given to Mary’s Child when He was circumcised on the eighth day. Now the name Jesus automatically has eternal significance! Now the name Jesus automatically assures us that the Lord our God has indeed kept His promise and saved us from our sins.
May God grant that as you look back over the year 2018 and as you prepare to enter into the year 2019 that you will rejoice in the seemingly insignificant event recorded for us here in Luke 2:21, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”
May you all have a very blessed New Year!
To God be the glory!