An Eighth Day Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
January 1, 2017
Lections Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21
“that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those 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.”
We begin with a question: what lies in a name? The Anglican and Methodist churches set aside the eighth day after Christmas to celebrate the Holy Name of Our Lord: Jesus, “the name given by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.” Just as Christians are given a name when they are baptized, Jewish males were named on the day they were circumcised, for names were regarded as signs that pointed at a person’s significance in sacred history. The name Jesus signified the fulfillment of the expectation of the Annunciation. The words for the Troparion, or Hymn for the Day, sung in the Orthodox Church, say: “Enthroned on high with the Eternal Father and Your Divine Spirit, / O Jesus, You willed to be born on earth of the unwedded handmaid, your Mother. / Therefore You were circumcised as an eight-day old Child. / Glory to Your most gracious counsel; / glory to Your dispensation; / glory to Your condescension, O only Lover of mankind.” Several strands of the meaning given to the Holy Name of Jesus are mentioned in this hymn.
First, we recall Paul’s words in Philippians 2:6-8; speaking of the kenosis or self-emptying of the 2nd Person of the Trinity, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!” Paul identifies a correspondence between the name of Jesus and the radical humility, suffering, and redemptive power of the self-emptying person.
Second, the Nativity of the Divine Infant, born of a woman, focuses our experience of Christmas, when we celebrate Mary’s trust in God, faithfulness, purity, and self-sacrificing love. Therefore, the name of Jesus conveys the righteousness demonstrated by his mother.
Third, the circumcision of Jesus, when his blood was shed for the first time, establishes his human nature beyond dispute and consecrates the suffering of redemption. We hear in the name of Jesus the whole creation groaning, “as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” and we also hear the promise of its future glory. Holiness is interwoven by the circumcision and name of Jesus.
Circumcision is a sign, the cutting of the flesh that signifies a male Jew is subject to the covenant made by God with Abraham and Abraham’s descendants. The circumcision of Jesus probably took place where the shepherds left Mary pondering “their words in her heart” and attests to the identification of Our Lord with “the people of God.” In every respect, Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, giving us an example of a complete and perfect human nature. When we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus, we celebrate his fully human nature.
The name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew Yeshua, meaning “God saves,” that is, “rescues” or “delivers.” Jesus is the Messiah or “anointed one” who at Christmas we call Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus condescends to be “God with us,” when he “willed to be born on earth” of the Theotokos. The words of today’s Kontakion, the hymn immediately following the Troparion, say, “The Lord of all accepts to be circumcised, / thus, as He is good, excises the sins of mortal men. / Today He grants the world salvation.” “God with us” is the God of Exodus, of deliverance from slavery to sin. We can read the biography of Jesus in his name.
In summary, we find three examples in the Holy Name of Jesus for how to live our lives. First, we are to count ourselves nothing, imitating the kenosis or self-emptying of the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Second, we are to obey all the ordinances of God, as Jesus submitted to circumcision, and then to the baptism of purification. The ordinances of God include the Ten Commandments as well as the New Covenant ordinances instituted by Jesus and later by his church. Third, our bodies, minds, and souls, which constitute our human nature, are to be consecrated to God, completely and perfectly, with not a whit denied. All human suffering – especially the shedding of blood – points toward the cross and the restoration of our life with God, in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
The Jewish circumcision prefigures Christian baptism, when the visible sign of the flesh is restored by the invisible sign of the Spirit. Christians are given a name at their baptism not so much as a sign for others but as a purpose for their lives. We look backwards to the example of the saints from whom our names are chosen so that we might move forward in the way of holiness, the woof and warp of the Holy Name. On the upcoming feast of Epiphany, which falls on Friday, Jesus appears to the Three Kings as later he appears to us, at his Baptism. The Holy Name of Jesus sends us to the Jordon, where the Father speaks through light, fanned by the wings of a dove, and we are immersed, that we might be delivered unto life.
And all the people said, Amen.