Circumcision, Name, and Presentation of Jesus
January 1st, Year of Our + Lord 2012
They Called His Name Jesus
Do you think that Mary and Joseph’s emotions went up and down like the temperature outside, or the cars on a rollercoaster? As Mary was rushing off to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, did the impact of Gabriel’s Baby announcement have her worrying up the hills and rejoicing down? Did the prospect of serving as the Guardian of the Son of God have Joseph beaming one moment and sweating bullets the next? What about the gifts of the Magi? Did the value of the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to the Christ Child make Joseph confident for the future in the morning, but tossing and sleepless at night, worried that the family would be a target for robbers?
Hard to say. But we are certainly prone to ups and downs, aren’t we? The five days our son Jeremy and his girlfriend Stephanie spent at our house over Christmas were great, really enjoyable. But after they left, Shelee and I were distracted and mopey all day. I’m not sure how Madeline felt, she went to her room and never reappeared.
Highs seem inevitably to be followed by lows. That rush of energy from a big piece of chocolate fudge is quickly followed by drowsiness and a dull headache. The thrill of hitting send on a message declaring your affection to that girl of your dreams is all too quickly followed by panic at the possibility she might reject you.
How about you? Have any of your Christmas presents already taken you high, then low? A great gift also brings challenges, how to keep it great, how to use it properly, how to afford the batteries or bullets, or the gas or insurance or whatever costs your new toy requires. Good new things can even cause us to think less of those not-so-exciting anymore, old things we have. Up, then down. Happy, then sad. Confident and cheerful, then worried and glum.
The Bible doesn’t dig much into psychology, but I have to think the lives of Mary and Joseph featured great mood swings, since that’s pretty normal for human beings in general, and because their life was filled with bigger events than most. Filled with bigger events than any, I suppose. What wonder and joy in the stable when the Child was born, the Child they both knew to be the Son of God. Any doubts, do you suppose, as Joseph set out to find a mohel, that is, to hire a rabbi to perform the bris, the covenant of circumcision, on the eighth day following the virgin birth? Every Jewish boy was circumcised, and Joseph and Mary, not receiving any angelic instructions to the contrary, might not have given it a second thought. Or maybe they did. Maybe the idea of shedding the blood of God’s Son give them pause, perhaps at the last moment? How can we do this? This Baby is God’s Son; do we dare cut Him?
How clearly did Joseph and Mary’s understand what they were caught up in? Luke seems to suggest some lack of clarity, telling us how Simeon’s song about the Christ Child caused them to marvel, and how Simeon felt the need to explain to Mary that a sword would pierce her soul as well, as she lived out her calling as the Mother of this Child. If Mary had clearly understood just how her Son would be the Savior, wouldn’t she have already known what was coming?
Which shows how the law is our guardian, our tutor, until Christ and His justification comes. Joseph and Mary did what they were told to do, not perfectly, but within the boundaries, maybe happily, maybe not happily, but at least with the satisfaction of having things to do, sure things, ancient things, things within human capacity – have the Boy circumcised, dedicate Him at the Temple, pay the poor man’s sacrifice for their purification, do the things that Jewish parents do.
And the angel Gabriel had given them a new law, a specific command, which they could also manage. They could name the Boy Jesus, nothing extraordinary about that. Jesus in the Greek, Yehoshua in Hebrew, Joshua in English, the commanded name was very common, thousands of Jewish boys having been named for this aide to Moses, Joshua, son of Nun, the man who led Israel out of the Wilderness, across the Jordan River, and into the Promised Land. Sure, Joseph and Mary could pull that off, whether they were happy or sad, up or down. And so they were kept under the Law, until Christ and His justification should come.
Living under a reliable law, however imperfectly, helps smooth out the ups and downs of our roller-coaster lives, a very helpful thing. But living under the guardianship of the law doesn’t offer any permanent, final promise of happiness, because while it can guide us, and minimize problems, the law in the end can only point out what we are to do, and how we fail. The law can never forgive, for the law demands justice, it demands to be kept. This we ‘up and down’ sinners never do, and so the law can never save us.
And so the Baby was named Jesus, because the baby was Jesus. You see, the name Jesus, or Joshua, means the LORD is salvation, or the LORD saves. And while every other prior Jesus or Joshua was simply named in honor of this very hopeful promise, this Baby of Mary is the promise. Jesus Son of Mary is the LORD, Yahweh, or Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Creator of the Universe, and He had come to save His people from their sins.
And so of course Jesus was circumcised, it was part of the Law, and Jesus came to fulfill the Law, on our behalf. Jesus didn’t need the Law to be His guardian or tutor. He was the author the Law, commanding Abraham to circumcise and giving the full law to Moses, who gave it to the Israelites. But Jesus put Himself under His own Law, for your sake. For my sake. For the sake of Mary and Joseph. For the sake of saving sinners, caught in this up and down world, this world where no one ever reaches the goals God has set for us, this world where people all too often fall to depths of depravity and sorrow that are scary to think about, for our sake, Jesus was circumcised. He was circumcised, because He came to fulfill the Law. He was circumcised, because He came to shed His blood, for the life of the world.
Jesus didn’t struggle with up and down, with circumstances and emotions making Him by turns euphoric or despondent. No, Jesus’ life was all one downward spiral. He came down from Heaven, after all, from the right hand of the throne of God, into this sin filled world. His life got worse and worse: born in a shelter for animals, laid in a manger, subjected to a cutting law given to sinners, chased into Egypt, rejected by His own family, and rejected by His own people, even after His miracles and teaching had revealed who He was and what He had in store for them.
Jesus’ life was one long spiral into the depths. And yet, even in the midst of that dizzy, downward spiral, Jesus was joyful, full of hope. For the joy set before Him, He endured the depths, the lowest lows, even rejection and betrayal and abandonment by those closest to Him. Even the insults and blows of petty religious tyrants, bent on destroying Him. Being born in a barn, sleeping in a feed trough, being bloodied on His eighth day, these were just the beginning of His humiliation. And yet through all of it, calmly and resolutely and for the sake of His joy, Jesus continued on.
And what was His joy? To fulfill His Name. To be the LORD, saving His people, shedding His blood, suffering our condemnation, to be your justification, in order to have you for His very own.
Only then did His trajectory turn upward. Only when He had paid for the very last sin of the very last human sinner, only then did Jesus stop plumbing the depths. Resting for a Sabbath’s evening and day in a stone chamber, Jesus then started up, never to be brought low again. Jesus, the fulfillment of the LORD’s salvation, promised from of old, burst up and out of the tomb, full of joy and light and new life. He raised His disciples from the depth of sorrow, and then, taken up in a cloud, He raised humanity to God’s right hand, re-taking His rightful chair. Jesus, God’s Son, returned to His proper seat at the Father’s right hand, but now He sits also as the Man Jesus, who is the LORD, our salvation, our righteousness, our eternal friend and Savior.
They called His Name Jesus, and so should you. In real human history, a man named Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross, and the world has never been the same. A church grew out of confessing Him to be the resurrected Son of Mary and Son of God, a church that has been persecuted, rejected, scorned and written off for two millennia, and yet still a church that grows, and spreads, and rejoices to confess that Name, Jesus.
They called His Name Jesus, and He calls to you: come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden, caught in the downward spiral of sin and sorrow, and I will give you rest. And, come to me also when you rejoice in the good things of this world, and I will give you better joy, true and everlasting joy, and peace that passes understanding. Hear my voice, in your ups and in your downs, and know that in Me, all your sins are forgiven, all your sadnesses are sure to pass, all your Godly hopes will be fulfilled.
They called His Name Jesus, and He is, the LORD’s Salvation, for you.
Peace and joy and steadfast hope to you, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.