Sermon for January 01, 2017

Sermon for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, New Year’s Day,

January 1, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Luke 2:21

Sermon Theme:  “The Church Year Continues as the Secular Year Begins, and

We Have Jesus’ Name on Us”

(Sources:  Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 27, Part 1, Series A; Life Application Study Bible footnotes; Concordia Self-Study Bible footnotes; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; the Westminster Dictionary of the Bible; Online Peanuts Cartoon Strips; gospel; original ideas; The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware); my Images Column for December 29; my sermon for December 18, 2016).

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

When you get old, a year seems to go by in an eye blink.  Last year seems like last week.  Today is the first day of the secular New Year, yet the old year still seems new to me.

During his lifetime, Charles M. Schulz, through his Peanuts comic strip, left a legacy of New Year’s commentaries.  Through the mouths of the characters in his strip, he left us with much to think about.

While Lucy van Pelt was always cynical, Charlie Brown and Linus had a little better outlook on the New Year.  One year, Lucy and Charlie meet on the sidewalk on New Year’s morning, and they gaze at the snow-covered landscape.  Lucy says, “See?  What did I tell you?”  Charlie, looking at her perplexed, says, “What?”  She answers with disgust, “This year is no better than the last one!”

In another strip, Charlie Brown says to the world, “Life is like an ice cream cone, you have to lick it one day at a time.”  And in still another, Charlie says to the younger, impressionable Linus, “YEARS are like candy bars . . . we’re paying more, but they’re getting shorter.”  Without a spiritual life, I suppose people do tend to measure their days on earth in ice cream cones, or, as with the case of J. Alfred Prufrock, in coffee spoons.

In day to day living, most of us reckon time by the secular calendar, even though as Lutherans, we worship according to the ecclesiastical or church calendar.  The New Year, according to the Church calendar begins with Advent, — this year it began on November 27.  So, today, while it is the secular New Year, we celebrate the Circumcision and Name of Jesus according to the Church calendar.

Other religious communities also have a religious calendar as well as a secular calendar.  For the Jewish community, the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins in September or October.  The Muslim New Year, Muharram, begins in September.  The Chinese New Year, in the past, religious, now secular, begins on the new moon, between January 21 and February 20, this year falling on January 28.

The ecclesiastical calendar reminds us that life is more than just eating candy bars and drinking coffee.  This day matters, not because it starts the new,  secular year, but because God gives His blessings to us through, and only through, Jesus’ name.

On this day, one week after Christmas, or, by Hebrew counting, eight days after Jesus’ birth, the baby Jesus was circumcised, as all good Jewish boys were.  On that occasion, He was also given His name, also according to custom.

You know, I don’t like to be confused about anything, and when I was growing up, listening to the pastor preach every Sunday, I was confused about these things happening to Jesus in the Temple.  It was confusing enough because our pastor sometimes preached in German, but also because I didn’t know whether Baby Jesus was brought to the Temple once, and all these things were done at the same time, or whether His parents took Him multiple times.

In later years, I was able to straighten that up in my head.  Just in case you have experienced some of the same confusion as I did, let me lay this Temple stuff out for you.

Jewish Law required that a number of ceremonies in the Temple had to be observed not long after the birth of a baby.  When I discovered there were four ceremonies rather than all in one, as I had thought as a child, the confusion was cleared up.  Jewish families went to the Temple for these four rituals:  ONE, the Circumcision and Naming of a male child; TWO, the Redemption of the First Born; THREE, the Purification of the Mother; and FOUR, the Consecration  of the child to God.

First, Circumcision symbolized the Covenant with God which separated  God’s people, the Jews, from Gentiles, and it was most of the time performed the 8th day after birth, — though  Abraham was circumcised when he was 99 years old, and Ishmael when he was 13.  For Christians, baptism has replaced circumcision.

Two, according to Exodus 13 and Numbers 18, any first-born baby was to be presented to God again, one month after birth.  This was a buying back ceremony, in which the child was “redeemed” or “bought back.”  In so doing, the parents acknowledged that the child really belongs to God.

Third, a trip to the Temple for the Purification of the Mother, 40 days after the birth of a son and  80 days after the birth of a daughter, was necessary as she was considered unclean and could not enter the Temple.  An animal sacrifice was required to make her clean again.

Fourth, after the Ritual of Purification, the child was brought to the Temple for Consecration.  At this celebration, the righteous and devout Simeon took Jesus in his arms for the consecration, and the words of Simeon are now known to Christians as the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace. . .”

Although Scripture does not make all of these entirely clear, these are the designations I have found.

Today’s sermon text speaks of the first celebration, the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.  It is significant for several reasons.

First of all, it shows us the human nature of Jesus, that He underwent the same rituals that any other Jewish male baby would have undergone, just as many years later, even though God incarnate, He would be baptized by John.  Like any other Jewish baby, He was given a name at His circumcision, but His name was no ordinary name.

It is highly significant that in His name we see the divinity of Jesus.  It’s highly significant because He was given the name God had given Him, as the angel had instructed both Mary and Joseph.  Jesus, God’s own Son, was given God’s name.  The angel gave Joseph the reason for this name when he said, “for He will save His people from their sins.”

The name “Jesus” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Joshua.”  “Joshua” or “Yeshua” is a combination of the Hebrew word for “salvation” with “Yahweh,” the Hebrew name for God.  It means “the One who saves,” or “Savior.”  This infant will be born to save His people from their sins.  Having God’s name means having a special relationship with God, just as having our parents’ name means we have a special relationship with them.

So what’s the big deal?  Why is a NAME so important?  In today’s Old Testament lesson, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “So shall they put MY NAME upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Jesus says in Matthew 18:20 , “Where two or three come together in MY NAME, there am I with them.”  Jesus also says in John 14:13, “You may ask me anything in MY NAME, and I will do it.”

Luke says in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other NAME under heaven  given to men by which we must be saved.”

Paul says in Philippians 2:9, “At the NAME of Jesus, every knee should bow.”

Paul also says in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the NAME of the Lord Jesus.”

And John addresses his first letter to the churches in the Province of Asia, saying,  “to those who believe in the NAME of Jesus.”

So the NAME of Jesus IS a big deal.  The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church have a doctrinal statement about this, affirming they believe that the power of God is present in the NAME of Jesus, so that any invocation of that Divine Name is a sign of God’s grace.

God gives His blessings to us by putting His name on us.  God authorizes called and ordained pastors to bless the congregation with the words of Aaron’s blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you;  the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  “So shall they put my NAME upon the people of Israel,  and I will bless them,” thus spoke God.

As I said at the beginning of my sermon, for an old guy like me, each year goes by in an eye blink, but no matter how fast or how slow our life goes by, it is blessed because we have God’s NAME on us!  And that’s the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus PROMISE to us for the New Year.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.