Today’s Holy Gospel is one verse, but the verse demonstrates Saint Luke’s attention to detail. Up until this verse, he does not refer to Jesus by name. In Bethlehem’s manger he is simply a baby, a swaddled newborn with no name. When the shepherds visit, they don’t ask what most people ask when a child is born, “What’s his name?” He didn’t have a name a week ago, until today. Today He gets His name Jesus, and with His name He gets the mark of the covenant: circumcision.
While the rest of the world is nursing its new year’s hangover and wishing one another “Happy New Year!” and settling in for some college bowl games and parades, the Church sets aside January 1, the eighth day of Christmas, to celebrate the Name and the Circumcision of Jesus. And unless you are Jewish by background, this seems like a really weird thing to celebrate.
We’re not sure precisely when the naming custom came in, though clearly it was observed at the time of Jesus. The eighth day is prescribed in Levitical law. There was no notion of waiting until the child was old enough to decide for himself. There was no sense of an age of accountability. On the eighth day of every baby boy born in Israel, he received the sign of the covenant and became a son of the covenant, an Israelite. And with his identity, he now gets a name.
So it was with Jesus as it was with every baby boy born in Israel. He is given the name “Y’shua”, Jesus. The Lord is salvation, for He will save His people from their sins. How will He save His people from their sins? He is obedient to the Law, He is a son of the covenant, He is an Israelite, He will shed His blood under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law, those held captive by sin and death. This is precisely why the Son of God became Flesh and was born. He was born of a woman, born under Law, to redeem those under the Law. Here is His first act of obedience.
In order to understand this day and the significance of Jesus’ circumcision, you need to understand fully who Jesus is as the Incarnate Son. He is the second Adam. He’s all of humanity in one Person. He is the Stand-in for the entire human race, and He embodies all of humanity in His own body.
The apostle Paul works this out in Colossians chapter two: For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Saint Paul says here that in Jesus the fullness of divinity dwells bodily. That means that even that even as an eight day old baby boy, Jesus is fully God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. He is fully divine and fully human. That union of divinity with humanity makes some things possible that otherwise would be impossible of a human being. It means that He is able to embrace others into Himself so that what happens to Him also happens to them in Him. It also means that He, though He may be a helpless Baby or a dying Man on a cross, is the Head of all rule and authority, and being the Head, He embodies the whole creation and all of humanity in Himself.
In Him, all of you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands in the circumcision of Christ. That includes boys and girls. It wasn’t done on you. It was done on Jesus, and being done on Jesus you were included. In other words, when Christ was circumcised and became a son of Israel, so did you in Him. And that’s why circumcision became a free thing in the New Testament, something completely free, optional, and religiously unnecessary. It’s because when Jesus was circumcised, the whole world became a Jew.
You also see what it represented – the putting off of the body of the flesh, the mortification of the old Adam. Adam has to die. Our old Adam flesh needs to be put off. Circumcision signified that. You were buried with Christ in Baptism. So not only did you become an Israelite in Christ, you were also joined to Him in His death and burial through Holy Baptism. And even more. You were raised with Him through faith. Paul says in Colossians chapter three that you are even exalted, seated and glorified at the right hand of God in Christ. Always in Christ. Don’t forget that. You are still in you, in this body of death, in this old Adam that needs to be threatened, punished, disciplined, and bribed to do the will and works of God. But you are you are in Christ are perfectly free, perfectly alive, justified, sanctified, and even glorified in Christ.
None of us knows what the New Year will bring in terms of health, wealth and love. The days and the seasons are the Lord’s, and everything we do always has if the Lord be willing written across it as James rightly says. We do know and have as our certainty in the midst of uncertainty one thing: Jesus’ obedience under the Law, His perfect righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We also have His Name, the Name by which we are saved, for He will save His people from their sins.
With HIs Name comes the promise of His presence, that where two or three are gathered in His Name, there He is in their midst. With His Name comes the mandate to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth. With His Name is the promise of prayer, that whatever you ask in His Name, HIs Father and your Father in heaven will grant it. With His Name is the promise of forgiveness, of life, of salvation, of peace.
Two gifts, one action, and one name. All yours today as we turn the calendar to a new year, yet under the same name: Jesus. The Lord saves. He saves you.
Happy New Year.