Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Our Lord

Luke 2:21; Galatians 3:23-29; Numbers 6:22-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Tonight we ring in the New Year in the same way we ring in each new week, in the same way we should ring in each and every new day: In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. For, we believe and we confess that each new year is lived in God’s grace and mercy, that each new week is lived under His gracious providence and protection, and that each new day is a precious gift and fruit of His ongoing creative and sustaining activity.
In the Name – yes, there’s something very powerful and important about God’s Name. The first mention we have in the Scriptures concerning God’s Name is Exodus 3:14, when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. Moses asked God for His Name so that he might tell the people of Israel who had spoken to Him. God replied saying, tell them “I AM has sent you.” Now, it is an understatement to say that there is a whole lot bound up in God’s Name. At the very least, God’s Name includes the Scriptural proclamation “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” That is to say, God is before all things, after all things, and fills and sustains all things. He is the source and sustainer of all things: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” Yes, all of that is bound up in God’s Name.
That is the Name we invoke at the beginning of the Divine Service. That is the Name that was placed upon us in Holy Baptism. That is the Name that we invoke in the morning when we awake, and again in the evening when we go to sleep. That is the Name that was cut into the flesh of Jesus when He was eight days old according to the Law of Moses. Jesus received that Name as a covenant promise in His flesh so that He could die in the flesh upon the cross and breathe God’s Name upon us by His Holy Spirit thereafter.
God commanded Aaron and his sons to bless His people with His Name saying, “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.” God promised them, “So shall they put my Name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” The Benediction was a promise, a seal, and a covenant that God would keep and never break, for it was His Word, and it was Truth, and Life. Yet, it pointed forward to its fulfillment in Jesus. Like the Law of God, the Benediction was a “guardian,” as St. Paul puts it in the Epistle to the Galatians, “until Christ came.” As with the Law, Christ is its fulfillment, so does the Benediction’s power flow from Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. Jesus is God’s blessing upon His people, even as He is the Name that seals us in Holy Baptism unto the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.
The apostles preached in Jesus’ Name. They proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name. Pastors continue to proclaim God’s forgiveness to you today in Jesus’ Name. Truly, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. At the Name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. For those baptized into Jesus, you wear His Name and all that belongs to it. Jesus’ Name marks you and seals you in His forgiveness, life, and salvation, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Eight days after His birth in Bethlehem, the infant Jesus was circumcised according to the Law. It was then that He was given the Name Jesus, God Saves, as the angel Gabriel revealed to His mother Mary before He was conceived in the womb. Jesus is God’s salvation, in the flesh. His shedding of first blood as an infant pointed to the blood He would shed in fulfillment of the Law upon the cross as a man. In this way, God saved His people. All of this is in His Name.
And so, here we stand this evening at the close of another year of God’s grace. This past year we experienced many joys and many sorrows, just like the years before. In God’s providence, perhaps, as the years pass by, we tend to remember mostly the joys, whereas the sorrows become less memorable and identifiable, but they become the fabric of our lives. But, as we look back and remember, we can begin to see how God blessed us and kept us through it all; maybe we can even begin to see how He works all things for the good of those who love Him. In faith, we must confess that it is by God’s grace that we are here, that He has graciously provided us all that we need to sustain our bodies and lives. Therefore, we give Him thanks and praise Him. And, we respond to His love and faithfulness by bearing and sharing His love and faithfulness with others.
And, as we set ourselves to embark upon a new year, we confess that it will be a new year under God’s grace. No, we cannot know what this new year will hold in store for us, and, naturally, there is a little anxiety and trepidation mixed with excitement and hope. But, we do know this: God will bless and keep us in the Name of Jesus.
What’s in a name? In the Name of Jesus? Everything! Forgiveness, life, and salvation – for the new year, and for all eternity.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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