Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation: In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Our gospel reading is short today. So short that its worthy of another reading as the basis of our message.
[St. Luke 2:21]
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
2. This single verse tells us how Jesus got his name. He did not get his name from Joseph, who would announce his name at the circumcision. Our Lord did not get his name from the whims and fancies of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Certainly family members and friends offered "helpful" suggestions throughout St. Mary's pregnancy, but none of these had anything to do with the name the Son of God was given. St. Luke tells us that the angel had announced Jesus' name to St. Mary even before he was conceived.
3. If we go back a chapter in St. Luke's gospel we see this is exactly the case. The arch-angel Gabriel appears to St. Mary and says to her,
[St. Luke 1:30-31]
. . . "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus."
Jesus' name is not a suggestion from a beloved family member. It is not the result of hours of debate and conversation between expectant parents. Jesus' name comes from God the Father himself. As such, it is the name which the Son of God, born in the flesh, will bear for all eternity.
4. To ensure that he is named properly, an angel, perhaps the same angel who came to St. Mary, reveals himself to St. Joseph in a dream.
[St. Matthew 1:20b-21]
"Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
5. Once Jesus is born, we see that St. Joseph obediently does as the Lord commanded, and names the boy Jesus. By giving him that blessed and holy name, he was publicly doing what God the Father had already done in heaven. He was making known to all what the angels had made known to him and to the child's mother. There was no other name suitable for this child. He had to be named Jesus.
6. But why? Why not Fred, or Bill, or even Joseph after his earthly Father? None of these names would do because Jesus' name IS his identity. The name Jesus tells us exactly who Jesus is and exactly what he does. The angel told Joseph this when he came to him in that dream.
[St. Matthew 1:21b]
" . . . you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Because he is our Savior, Jesus gets a name that says exactly that. Jesus means, "Jehovah saves." "The LORD saves." The heavenly gift of salvation from sin, death, and the devil is bound up in the holy name of Jesus.
7. So this name is reserved for the Man who is God himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who saves us from our sins. It is a special name. A holy and blessed and name. It is the name of God. In the second commandment we are commanded by God:
[Second Commandment and Explanation--Small Catechism]
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.
In the Large Catechism we read these words from Luther:
[Large Catechism, KW p. 392-393]
If you are asked, "What does the Second Commandment mean?" or "What does it mean to take the name of God in vain or to misuse it?" you should answer briefly: "It is a misuse of God's name if we call upon the LORD God in any way whatsoever to support falsehood or wrong of any kind." What this commandment forbids, therefore, is appealing to God's name falsely or taking his name upon our lips when our heart knows or should know that the facts are otherwise--for example, when taking oaths in court and one party lies about the other. God's name cannot be abused more flagrantly than when it is used to lie and deceive.
8. The more we hear about the precious name of Jesus, the clearer it becomes that we do indeed misuse his holy name. In exasperation we often hear someone blurt out the name of Jesus as a way to express frustration or anger. We take the name of Jesus on our lips for so many things other than calling upon God, or praying to him; praising him or giving him thanks. Every time we do so we sin. And this sin brings the wrath of God upon our heads. In Exodus 20 we read:
. . . for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
None of us here are free from the guilt of this sin. The Law of God reveals that by our sinful misuse of the name of Jesus, we are guilty in the sight of God himself. We are sinners. Sinners against the very name of God.
9. Precisely because we are such sinners, God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to do exactly what his name says. To save us from our sins. And we are in desperate need of saving. We are so desperately lost that we are, in fact, dead. And the one named Jesus, God in the flesh, has come to revive us from the dead and save us from this sin.
St. Paul tell us in Colossians, chapter 2,
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has saved us by taking our sinful misuse of his name to the cross on Calvary. There he endured the punishment for our sin and made us alive again. By shedding his blood and offering up his own life, Christ bore the verdict of our guilt against his very name. And there, on the cross, Jesus gave up his life so that we would be freed from the damnation brought about by our breaking of God's holy Law.
10. When the angel told Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sins, that's what he meant. That Jesus would die for our sins. That he would bear our guilt to save our lives. That he would revive us and make us alive with himself, alive to live forever with him. All these promises are bound up in Jesus' name. The promise of forgiveness. The promise of life. The promise of salvation and a life lived in Christ, rather than in the sinful wasteland of the world.
11. God himself has given the name of Jesus as a blessing to us, body and soul. He covers us with his name with words such as these:
"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."
We have been made holy by the precious gift of the name of Jesus, and so our hearts do not conjure ways to misuse the name of the Lord. Our souls have been sanctified and therefore we no longer take the name the Lord in vain. Our very lips have been sainted and therefore no longer spout forth words that injure the holy name of the one who saves, the Lord Jesus Christ. By the gift of the name of Jesus, we have been made alive again, no longer dead in the sin of taking the Lord's name in vain.
12. Because this is so; because we have been made alive in Christ and rescued from the certain death or sins deserve, God calls on us to live Christian lives; lives that reflect the grace and mercy bestowed on us in the name of Jesus Christ.. St. Paul puts it this way in Philippians, chapter 2:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a men, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
13. Our attitude should be that of Christ. God calls on us to be humble in our dealings with other people. He calls on us to be obedient to his commands. Especially to his command to make reverent use of his holy name and not to misuse the name of Jesus, our Lord. And so, when we hear the name of Jesus, we bow our knees and our heads. We bow our hearts within us along with all of creation. When we use the name of Jesus we do so to call upon God in the midst of our troubles; to pray to our Lord; to praise him and give him thanks for the salvation of our souls. For this salvation comes from no one else, but the one whose name means The LORD Saves: Jesus, the Son of God, born in the flesh to save us from our sins. May his holy name be praised. Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Keith R. Weise
December 31, 2007
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