Today, as we begin a new year, think back for a moment about the day you were born. You were utterly and totally dependent on your parents for every aspect of your life. They did all the work to provide food for you. They fed you. They changed your diapers. They provided a home for you and comforted you when you cried out in distress and protected you from harm and danger. A study published several years ago estimated that the cost today of raising a child is approximately $250,000. It was far less when we were born – but we still caused our parents to spend a lot of money to raise us. And yet, you never received a bill from your parents for their work on your behalf, did you? Why? It’s because you belong to them. You bear their name.
It’s the same with your relationship with God. Think about the day when you were baptized into Christ. No matter whether you were baptized as an infant or as an adult, you were and are totally dependent on God for every aspect of this new life that was won for you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only did God do all of the work making it possible for you to be saved, but He does all the work necessary to make that salvation yours. He did the work of saving you by His death and resurrection. He does the work of delivering this salvation to you through the proclamation of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He washed the “dirty diapers” of your sin in Holy Baptism and continues to wash them clean every time you return to those waters as you confess your sins and receive absolution. He hears your prayers and comforts you with His Word. He feeds you with His very body and blood. He has made His house your home.
The life with God and one another that you now have in the family of God cost Jesus His life. Yet, you will never receive a bill from Him. Why? Because you belong to Him. You bear His name. All this comes as a result of being given God’s name. That is why on this day when we celebrate the circumcision and name of Jesus we realize that God blesses us with everything that He is and has through His name. God gives us His blessings through – and only through – His name.
Today is a day that truly matters – matters perhaps more than we realize – and it isn’t just because it is the start of a new year. On this day, just one week after Christmas – or, by Hebrew counting, eight days after Jesus’ birth – the baby Jesus was circumcised just as all Jewish boys were circumcised. On that day it was the custom for the baby to officially receive his name. It was also customary for Jewish boys to be named after a deceased relative, so one might have expected Mary and Joseph to give the baby the name of Joseph’s father or some other relative.
Matthew lists the name of Joseph’s father as Jacob, while Luke identifies Joseph’s father’s name as Heli. But on this occasion – just as had been true for the name of Jesus’ cousin John – this baby was given the name that God had given to Him. He wasn’t named in honor of Jacob or Heli or any other male in Joseph’s family tree. As we heard in our Gospel lesson, “he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” God’s own Son was given God’s own name.
And remember what God’s name that was given to His Son really means. In Matthew 1:21 the angel of the Lord told Joseph: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus in Hebrew means “God saves.” Jesus’ destiny of atonement for His people is revealed in His very name.
Also remember that on this day we remember not only the naming of our Lord but also His circumcision. There’s no need to go into details, but the fact of the matter is that the act of circumcision involves both pain and blood. As Jesus was circumcised, the first drops of His blood were shed, representing a sign of the greater spilling of His blood years later on the cross. Jesus’ destiny of atonement for His people is revealed in the shedding of His blood when He was only eight says old.
I want to pause and explain something very important about the name of God. The proper name of God in the Old Testament is YHWH. But God’s people recognized that God’s name is holy – and since it is holy, it could never be spoken by sinful lips of sinful mankind. So instead, when God’s holy name was to be invoked, the name Adonai – which can be translated as “Lord” – was substituted.
A practical example of this can be found in our Old Testament reading from Numbers chapter six, where our translation says: “The Lord bless you and keep you.” The original Hebrew text reads: “YHWH he shall bless you and he shall keep you,” but when those words were first spoken by Aaron the High Priest he would have declared: “Adonai he shall bless you and he shall keep you.” The proper name of God was always too holy to be spoken by sinful human lips – even, in this case, by God’s first High Priest.
The point of me telling you this is that with the naming of God’s Son as Jesus, we sinners can now address God directly by His name. We don’t have to use substitute words or call Him something else.
The fact that Jesus has God’s name means that He has a special relationship with His Father – just as having the name of our parents means that we have a special relationship with them. But think about this for a minute: how many times over this past year have you been unworthy of this name? Made unworthy by your thoughts … your words … your deeds? Unworthy by your sins you have committed and the original sin in which you were born?
As a Father, God does not ignore His children’s sins. But He does expose them so that we not only see our need for forgiveness but also look to Him to receive that forgiveness. Through the blood shed on the cross by His only-begotten Son, He forgives the sins of those who bear His name.
Having God’s name means everything – because outside of the name of God there is nothing but the curse of sin and death. Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” And these words of supreme comfort and promise from Galatians 3:26: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God gives His blessings to us by putting His name on us. Last night we celebrated an ending – the ending of a calendar year – but today and every Sunday you will hear an ending that is far more worthy of celebration. You already know those words very well: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
In the wilderness of Sinai, God authorized Aaron to deliver the blessing of His name to His people. And God still authorizes His servants today to do the very same – to put His name with all of its blessings on us. Pastors are called and ordained to say whatever the Lord says – just as Moses and Aaron were so long ago. The Lord tells them to speak those familiar words of the Benediction – the way we end our service every week.
And when I or some other pastor does this, the Lord promises, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Did you catch that? Listen carefully: “I will bless them,” God says.
When God’s name is placed on us, God Himself blesses us. “I will bless them,” He says. All of your sins of the past year and every past year are forgiven. All of the sins that you will most certainly commit in the coming year are forgiven. God does and will bless us. He blesses us by His name!
Every time you invoke the name of God, no matter whether it is through the Pastor in the Divine Service or in your daily prayers, you have God’s ear and he gives and bestows the blessings of His name. The Divine Service today began in His name – and during this time that God has brought us together, our Lord Jesus Christ has served us the blessings of His name through His Word and with His very body and blood. These blessings include His forgiveness, His goodness, His very life that conquers death, and His peace that surpasses all understanding, Before you leave, He will bless you one more time as He sends you out so that the blessing of His name has its way in your everyday lives. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.