The Circumcision and Naming of Jesus
January 1, 2017
“The Name Jesus”
And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21
We number all our years according to the birth of Jesus. The dates before Jesus’ birth are lettered, BC: Before Christ. Even those who don’t know Jesus or confess that he is the Christ must acknowledge this. The years before he was born are numbered by his birth, and the very initials, BC, teach that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior promised by the Old Testament prophets.
The years after Christ’s birth are even more explicitly Christian. We write, AD which is the initials for the Latin words, Anno Domini, which means, “year of our Lord.” If you read AD, you are reading a confession of Jesus as Lord, and not someone else’s Lord, but “our Lord.”
Nowadays, historians use the designation BCE – before the Common Era – in place of BC and the letters CE – Common Era, in place of AD. Apparently, they don’t want to confess Jesus as the Christ or Jesus as Lord when they date events. But they will confess that Jesus is Lord. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Philippians:
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. Whether the angels and saints in heaven or the Christians and even unbelievers here on earth or the devils and the damned in hell, everyone shall bow the knee before the name of Jesus, everyone shall confess that Jesus is Lord, that is, JHWH, the I AM, the Lord God of Israel, the only God, the LORD.
The Church’s celebration of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve, December 24, and ends on Epiphany, January 6. We are now celebrating Christmas, when the only begotten Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. When God became a man he did not cease to be God. Taking on a human nature in no way limited, restricted or compromised the full deity of God the Son. As St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae: “For in Him [that is, in Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” That was just as true when Christ was laid in the manger as it is today.
God is man, man to deliver. This is the reason for Christmas. The whole world must acknowledge it. God became a man. We date the years, whether with BC and AD or with BCE and CE according to this central miracle of all human history. When the infinite and eternal God joined himself to flesh and blood, he did not limit himself. He took into the human nature of Jesus the fullness of his deity. As the hymnist wrote, “He whom the worlds cannot enclose doth in Mary’s lap repose.”
God became a man. The Law-giver chose to subject himself to the Law. The Law didn’t apply to him. The law was made for sinners. He was not a sinner. He chose to submit himself to the demands of the law, beginning with the shedding of his blood on the eighth day after his birth when he was circumcised. On that day he was given the name, Jesus.
Jesus subjected himself to the Law of God in order to do what no one had done or had been able to do. He took the place of those who had failed. Ever since the time of Abraham, God had commanded circumcision, setting it down as the sign of his covenant, the sacrament of his grace. Yet not one man, not one child who had been circumcised in God’s name had ever faithfully fulfilled the demands of God’s covenant. Blood was shed in thousands, millions of circumcisions. It was the blood of sinners, and that blood could not take away sin. Only a sinless child, a sinless man, could shed blood that would take away sin. That is why Jesus was born. That is why he shed his blood. On the day he was circumcised, he shed his blood, pointing back into history and ahead to the future, pointing back to the sign of the covenant, giving it its true validity, and pointing forward to his crucifixion, where he would shed his blood for all people, the circumcised and the uncircumcised.
That is how he got his name, Jesus, which means, the Lord saves. The Lord God, who needed no law, was not content to become flesh and blood. He went beyond that and subordinated himself to the law, shedding his blood in obedience to the law, so that the whole world that was condemned by the law would be set free. Jesus’ name tells us who he is: the Lord. Jesus’ name tells us what he does: he saves sinners by taking their place under the law. He is our substitute. He alone met the requirements of Sinai. He fulfilled man’s part of God’s covenant with Israel. He alone could do it and he alone did it.
The law could make no demands on Jesus, but Jesus met its demands anyway, not for himself, but for those he came to save. For the saint, who by holy baptism has put on Christ, the law has nothing to say. It cannot accuse. It cannot convict. It cannot threaten. It must remain silent. Christ has done what the law requires. His circumcision was just the beginning. His whole life was a life of humble submission to God’s law. A flawless life offered by the perfect man, the perfect substitute, the perfect Savior. Did Jesus leave anything undone? Was his circumcision mere outward obedience, an empty sign? No, it obligated him to do precisely what he then did. Does the law have any claims on Jesus? No. He is sinless. Does the law have any claims on God’s saints? No, they are as sinless as Jesus, for they are covered with Jesus’ own sinlessness.
The Bible says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27) We do not become children of God by doing. We become children of God by receiving what Christ has done for us. This is why it must be through faith alone. Christ is the one who has made us God’s children and heirs of God’s blessing.
So forget the law, saint, it has nothing to say to you. You did not get to be a saint by doing what the law says you must do. Rather, the law told you that you were not a saint, and you needed Christ. You needed to be baptized into Christ, you needed to be clothed, covered with Christ before the law would leave you alone. And now you are free from its demands, accusations, and threats.
This is what Jesus our Lord has done. What do you think of when you think of Jesus as your Lord? Listen to how the Catechism explains it:
Jesus does not become our Lord by telling us what to do. Jesus becomes our Lord by giving his life for us. When God became flesh and blood, he did so to set the world free. He came in meekness to live for us and to die for us. This is what he did. This is how we met him – in his lowliness, because even though he stands in glory at the right hand of the Father, yet he comes to us here in lowliness. He comes through the speaking of mere men. He comes through a washing that seems to the senses to be just water. It is the Lord God who speaks to us through the words of men. It is the Lord God who washes us at the font. It is the Lord God who gives us to eat and to drink of his body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins.
Jesus is the Lord God. There are two ways to confess him: here and now as sinners set free by his precious blood, or later in terror and forced submission when he returns to show the whole world that he is indeed Lord. Academics can avoid using the initials BC and AD but no one will avoid calling Jesus Lord.
What does one do with a Lord such as Jesus (besides numbering the years according to his birth)? One serves a Lord. You don’t make him your Lord; he has made himself your Lord. But you serve him. How? By doing what he says. “If you love me, you will obey my commandments,” Jesus said. What are they? That we love God and that we love one another. As we leave one year and enter another, our Lord calls on us to love the Lord our God in what we say, think, and do and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Think back on the year just gone and the year just arrived and consider what this law of love requires:
I know of no better explanation of what these commandments require of us than that provided in Luther’s Small Catechism. When we examine our lives in light of this law, we must confess that we have not loved God or one another as our Lord requires. We come to church to confess this failure to God and to listen to the absolution of our Savior, Jesus, who forgives us all our sins. He, who shed his blood for us as a baby and as a man, obeying the law of love, gives us the forgiveness that he won by his perfect obedience. We are here to receive the gospel that covers our sins. And we are here to devote our lives to the One who gave his life for us. We give him our lives this coming year. Our years are numbered according to his birth. Our lives are defined by his life. We live in hope. We will die in peace. We remain confident he will return to take us home when the time of this world has come to an end. For that day we pray, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Rolf D. Preus