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Naming of Jesus Sermon – Luke 2:21

January 3, 2017

January 1, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”

The Gospel Writer’s description of Jesus’ Naming is terse. There isn’t the great drama like in the appearance of Gabriel to Zecharias or to Mary, when the births of John and Jesus were foretold. It doesn’t have the elegant details of the Nativity Narrative. No, just the bare fact is given: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” 

But the length of an account doesn’t determine its significance. We might know that from our tours of Gettysburg. Abraham Lincoln’s dedicatory remarks have passed down through the ages, even committed to memory by students young and old. As for Edward Everett’s oration—all 13,000+ words of it—that has been committed to the dustbins of history. What is true about human words is even more so concerning the Scriptures. Even the one sentence of Luke’s Gospel is most significant.

Note the first part of the sentence: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised….” This connects Jesus to the Old Testament Covenant made with Abraham. The descendants of Abraham were to be marked as part of their incorporation into the promise that the LORD had made with their forefather. You might recall that covenant: “Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 

The LORD bound Himself to Abraham and to the descendants of Abraham who would have Him as their God. The sign of that Covenant was the circumcision that the LORD commanded for Abraham’s descendants: “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall My covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” 

The LORD’s great promise was to be fulfilled for Abraham’s descendants. The One who would fulfill it is Jesus. He is the King promised to come from Abraham, the Descendant through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. As the One who would do this, Jesus Himself is circumcised. He is incorporated into the Covenant that He would complete. Failure to have this done would result in Jesus’ inability to fulfill the Covenant. For the LORD did decree: “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” But that omission didn’t occur. No, the Gospel Writer told us: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised….”

Then there is the second part of the sentence: “He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” The name Jesus is conferred to Mary’s Son. But this wasn’t Mary’s choice of name. Neither did His guardian Joseph select it. No, the name Jesus was assigned. It was part of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”

But Jesus’ birth announcement also included details about what He would be. That is seen in the words following the assignment of Jesus’ name: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” That declaration from Gabriel spoke of Jesus’ connection to the Covenant made with Abraham. It speaks of Jesus’ rule over Jacob’s house, those who had the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their own God. It notes that Jesus will be a fulfiller of the LORD’s further promise to Abraham’s descendant David, as He would govern over the LORD’s people. Even more importantly, the announcement revealed that Jesus’ kingdom would have no end. But most importantly, the identity of Jesus as the LORD’s Son is revealed.

This is what we are to recall when we heard that phrase: “He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” As we hear the Gospel accounts of Jesus from now through Pentecost, we should think of how all the acts that He performed are done to fulfill what the angel had announced to Mary. We should ask: “How do these acts show that Jesus is the Son of the Most High. How do these acts describe how Jesus gains a kingdom and what His kingdom is like? How do these acts tell us that Jesus’ rule is eternal?” For that is how we begin to understand how Jesus completes the statements spoken about Him.

Part of that understanding is given in today’s Epistle Reading, where the way that we are incorporated into the LORD’s Covenant and made part of Jesus’ kingdom is described. The Apostle Paul mentions how we have become descendants of Abraham through Jesus: “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 neither male nor 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.” By being baptized, we have been clothed with Jesus. That eliminates the differences between ethnicities, liberties, sexes. No matter one’s ancestry, independence, or gender, those who have been baptized into Jesus have become one in Him. They belong to Him. That makes them the true children of Abraham, the ones to whom the LORD’s Covenant with Abraham is applied.

That passage of Scripture explains how the Covenant made with Abraham is fulfilled. Remember that the LORD had said: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Nations did come from Abraham. For as we think of his descendants, that includes people who didn’t share in his ethnicity. Even our little congregation is made up of people of different colors and cultures. Yet, the unity of belonging to Jesus and being made Abraham’s offspring exists because we have been baptized. As we have received Jesus as the LORD’s Messiah, as the Fulfiller of the Covenant, we are one family, as the Christmas Day Gospel reminded us: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

This change given to us through baptism allows us to obtain the blessing that the LORD gives to His people. The point of being incorporated into the Covenant made with Abraham that Jesus fulfills is to receive the benefits that the LORD promised. The LORD extends His grace, favor, and blessing to His people, as we hear in the benediction: “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.” The greatest grace, favor, and blessing is the salvation that Jesus would bring: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” That salvation is given to us because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the culminating act of fulfilling the LORD’s Covenant. Peace with God is accomplished through the Child born in Bethlehem, as the angels declared: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

We are those people the LORD is pleased with. We are Abraham’s offspring. We belong to the LORD’s household. We are born of God. That is all part of being baptized into Jesus. It is all part of the outcome of Jesus’ work. That work was foretold long ago. It began from His birth, even in the act that took place a little more than a week later: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” And so that one sentence from Luke’s Gospel is most significant to us.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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