January 1, 2012 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 2:21–2:40
The Name of Jesus
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Last weekend, we kicked off our celebration of the Christmas season. For many of you, I’m guessing, that meant exchanging gifts and all the prep work good gift-giving requires. You might have shopped around by looking at stores that you knew to be reputable, going out to the malls in the hopes of finding that prize at Toys R’ Us, Macy’s, Target, or Williams-Sonoma. (Or, you might have done what I did and gone one-stop gift shopping at Amazon.com.) Stores like these have a reputation of having the goods for which you’re looking. When it comes to wish lists, you’re probably hunting down something specific. You’ve got an assignment: find the hot toy or the particular manufacture’s product. How many of you gave or received gifts made by Microsoft or Makita? LeapPad or Lego? Toshiba or Tiffany & Co.? Brands communicate something about an item. Businesses often spend significant amounts of time and money to establish their brand and build up a reputation among potential customers. Do you make decisions based on brands? If you were hoping for a Rolex watch under the tree, how would you feel if you found a “Bolex?”
Brands are labels, and labels affect us. They tell us more about something: what it is, what it’s meant for. Labels can indicate the quality of a peanut butter or the purity of a bar of soap. We use them constantly to help sort out one thing from another. “A” is very A, but “B” definitely isn’t. And once you’ve got a label set, it can be tough to change it. People like to use labels because they help to simplify the world around them, and that includes the other people they meet.
What are the labels with which you’re leaving 2011? You may have picked up some labels along the way based on how you’ve acted toward the people around you. And maybe you’ve stuck yourself with yet other labels, thinking to yourself that things are not the way they should be. Sometimes these labels hang around for years – decades, even. What are the labels that you’ve carried? Addict? Bully? Cheater? Gossip? Liar? Loser? Slacker? How can you hope to enter into a new year with the old stuck to you like glue?
On the calendar of the church, January 1 is remembered as the day of the Name of Jesus. Falling eight days after the evening of December 24, we recall the circumcision of Jesus that Luke records at the start of today’s Gospel text. On that day, when that child who was born in Bethlehemfirst shed his blood for us to fulfill all righteousness, he received the name that the angel spoke to Mary and Joseph, the name of “Jesus.” That name means “Yahweh saves.” The Lord saves. Even at eight days old, Jesus is living up to his name. Mary and Joseph, being faithful to God’s instruction for His covenant people, then take the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem when he is 40 days old, going up for his mother’s purification and to present the baby boy to the Lord. Think about that. This baby, who is God Himself, comes to be present in His temple in flesh and blood. And when he does, amazing thing happen, including those we heard about this morning. Simeon, a man who has never before seen Jesus, proclaims that this boy is the salvation that God has prepared before all people, those labeled Jews and Gentiles, alike. After the incident with the shepherds 40 days earlier, and now this, it’s no wonder that Mary and Joseph “were marveling” at what was being said about Jesus. Then Anna, an old woman who has heard what Simeon announced, goes and tells yet more people about this baby, the one who would redeem the people. Jesus’ name is spreading.
Jesus: the Lord saves. He redeems. He buys back a people who are “under the law,” as Paul writes in his letter to the church inGalatia. People under the law need redeeming. They’re behind the eight ball right from the get-go, with no possibility of getting themselves out from that situation. They are people who carry labels: Adulterer. Idolater. Repeat offender. Unfaithful. And yet God does something about their hopeless situation. He steps in. He comes to free them, to buy them back from the slavery into which they’d sold themselves, to carry the burden of their labels Himself. The Lord saves. As Simeon foretold, the child that Mary and Joseph brought to the temple that day was destined for the fall and resurrection of many in God’s peopleIsrael.
Jesus’ name tells us who he is and what he’s meant to do. In Jesus, the Son of God came to be a human being, to redeem human beings. He sheds his blood and gives up his life for people who are under the law, people who carry labels. Doing so, he takes all their labels onto himself, puts them to death on the cross, and buries them in the tomb. Giving himself, he gives this people the label that he has carried since before his birth: child.
Under Jesus’ name, you are relabeled. In the waters of Baptism, God washes off all the old labels that you carried around, marking you instead with the cross of Christ and with his name. Adopted by God as His child, Jesus calls you his brother, his sister. You are Christian. You can call out to God, “Abba! Father!” knowing that He hears you and accepts you as His own. The labels of the past will not keep you and your Father apart any longer. As a Christian, one who bears the name of Christ through your baptism into his life, death, and resurrection, every day is a new beginning.
Today marks the beginning of a new year on the calendar, but as Christians we continue to celebrate the new thing that God has done through Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ very name points us to what God does for us, and so we celebrate his name among us this New Year’s Day. Bearing the name of Christ, you have a new beginning. The labels of the past have been removed by the God who has given Himself for you, even if you’ve felt like you’ve been a “Bolex” pretending to be a Rolex.
Remember Jesus’ name: the Lord saves. With the new beginning that you have in Christ comes new living. Relabeled in Jesus’ name, you may now bear that name in a manner that honors him. The Holy Spirit makes such a new beginning possible and sustains it, not just as a resolution for the New Year, but as your new identity. The past is past, and God has named you as His own.
Happy New Year, Christian!