by The Rev. Bruce Keseman
I see a lot of parents here who have sons. I have a question for you. You celebrate your son's birthday every year, just like we celebrated Jesus' birthday last Sunday, right? Well, this Sunday we're celebrating the circumcision of Jesus, so why don't you have an annual celebration of that event for your son, hmm? Why don't you sing "Happy Circumcision Day to You" and bake a Circumcision Day cake and give him Circumcision Day presents, hmm?
Circumcision just doesn't seem like an appropriate thing to commemorate, does it? So why do we even celebrate Jesus' circumcision-especially since there is only one sentence in all of Scripture about that little surgery on Mary's child and the accompanying bestowal of the moniker "Jesus"? Today we learn that the little blood and big name remembered in that single sentence of Scripture make a huge difference in our lives as we enter 2009 and always.
Mary and Joseph did what every Jewish parent did with a male child. They did what the Old Testament told them to do. Eight days after he was born they took their son to be circumcised. And they have him a name. A lot of us Gentiles circumcise our sons, too. It's no big deal. But among Jews, circumcision is a big deal. Circumcision shows that that child is part of God's covenant people.
And back in Biblical times, naming your son was almost as important as circumcising him. Isaiah named his son Maharshalalhashbaz-because that name contained a message God wanted to speak to his people. My parents could have named me Frank, Leo, Fritz-almost anything except Maharshalalhashbaz-and it wouldn't have changed my life a bit. That's because names are just labels to us. We use them to identify people, so everybody in the whole church won't respond if I say, "Hey, Fred." But to most people in the Bible, a name was a whole lot more than a label. Your name described who you were and what you were all about. For instance, "Eve," means "living," because she is the mother of all living humans. "Adam" means "ground," because he was taken from the dust of the earth. Abraham means "father of many," because his descendants are as numerous as the stars in the sky. "Peter" means "rock," because on the rock of Peter's confession Jesus build his church. When David was king, there was even a man named "Nabal." David's wife said Nabal's name fit him perfectly. "Nabal" means "fool."
Back then, people and their names were inseparably intertwined. Maybe if we realized that God and his name are still inseparably intertwined, we'd be more careful about the way we use his name. "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord." That's the second commandment. But how many times do you hear one of us say, "Jesus Christ" or-the one that's really in vogue right now-"Oh, my God." God wants us to use his name when we're praying. But those aren't prayers. Those are expressions we use when we're angry or impressed or surprised. Do we think so little of God that we toss his name around as if it means nothing?
And if any of us manage not to speak his name in vain, all of us still wear his name in vain. We've worn the name of Christ ever since we were baptized. We're called Christians. But look back over the year that's ending, look back over your whole life. How often has the way you lived brought shame to Christ's name? I know the way I've lived hasn't allowed others to see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven. In other words, we're taking God's name in vain every time we do anything contrary to God's will. And that's no small thing. God says he will not hold guiltless anyone who misuses his name.
Yet, it's precisely because we have sinned so grievously against God's name that we hold that name so dear. The name Jesus is God's promise of salvation to us sinners.
"Keseman" means "Cheeseman." If I had ended up as a cheesemaker, my named would have matched my life. But my name would've matched my life only by accident. It's no accident that Jesus' name matches Jesus' life. His name was part of God's plan. The angel told Joseph, "Give him the name "Jesus," because he will save his people from their sins." The name "Jesus" means "YHWH saves." It's the perfect name for the baby born at Bethlehem. It tells us who he is-YHWH. And it tells us what he does-saves.
My personal name is Bruce. God's personal name is YHWH. The name YHWH is found hundreds-probably even thousands-of times in the Old Testament. Yet we hardly ever hear it. That's because most English Bibles replace the name YHWH with the word "LORD" in all capital letters. Take a look at today's Old Testament reading. YHWH appears four times, and each time it is translated as LORD in all capital letters. And that reading reminds us how precious the name YHWH really is. God promises to bless us with that name. And he does bless us with that name at the end of every service: "YHWH bless you and keep you, YHWH make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, YHWH lift up his countenance on you and give you peace."
YHWH can bless us with his name at the end of every service, because 2000 years ago, he dressed himself in human flesh and became one of us. As incredible as it seems, the baby in the cattle trough is YHWH-YHWH come to save his people, come to save us people from our sins. Remember, "Jesus" means "YHWH saves." So his name assures us that he is God. But his name also assures us that he is human. The name Jesus was common name for humans in the first century. Ten other kids around Nazareth might have shared the same name. And except for the fact that he didn't sin, our Jesus was just like all the other Jesuses in town. He played sports, sang songs, and hung out with the other kids in the neighborhood. In other words, he was just as human as any of them or any of us. Jesus is 100% human at the same time that he's 100% God. That's not just theological trivia. Jesus has to be both God and human if he's going to save us. Only God has the power to save. And only a human is allowed to take our place.
So the name "Jesus" tells us who he is-YHWH, the God of the universe, who has became a human just like us. The name Jesus also tells us what he does. He saves. Again, "Jesus" means "YHWH saves." Ten other boys in Nazareth may have had the name "Jesus," because their parents wanted everyone to know that YHWH would come to save his people. Jesus had that name because God wanted everyone to know that YHWH had come to save his people.
When we were hanging from the ledge by our fingertips in sin, when we had no chance to be rescued, when we were slipping, slipping, slipping toward hell, Jesus came to the rescue. He came to the rescue in a livestock trough. He saves us from an everlasting fall. He saves us from the consequences of our sin, saves us from the threats of Satan, saves us from the permanence of death, saves us from the destruction of hell. That salvation is all there in the name "Jesus," for as Peter once preached, "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." It's by the one with the big name "Jesus" that we're saved.
But it's the little blood-in Jesus' circumcision-that helps us to see how Jesus lived up to his name that means YHWH saves. That seemingly insignificant surgery reminds us that he saves us because he is a human like us, he's under God's law with us, and he shed his blood for us.
First, circumcision shows that Jesus is a human like us. Jesus' name already showed us his humanity, but his circumcision makes it certain. "How does removing a foreskin prove that Jesus is a human?" you might ask. Well, God is a spirit. Spirits have no bodies. And you can't remove a foreskin from a being that doesn't have a body. Put simply, God can't be circumcised-unless God becomes incarnate, unless God makes himself a human. And that's just what he did. So circumcision shows that Jesus is a human.
That little operation also reminds us that the human Jesus didn't request any special treatment and he didn't receive any special treatment. He was just like us. Jesus got no exemptions, because he was God as well as human. Every other person of his gender, age, and race was circumcised, so Jesus was circumcised. But why was Jesus circumcised? Circumcision was God's way of saying, "I will be your God and you will be my people." But Jesus doesn't need a God. He is God. Circumcision is also God's way of forgiving sins. But Jesus doesn't need his sins forgiven. He has no sins. Circumcision was God's way of saying, "I'm making you my child." But Jesus doesn't need to be made God's child. He has always been the Son of God. In other words, Jesus wasn't circumcised for his own good.
Jesus was circumcised for our good! Circumcision is part of Jesus fulfilling his name. It's part of Jesus being YHWH saves. To save us, Jesus had to take our place. And to take our place, Jesus did for us what he didn't need to do for himself-he became a human and he became circumcised.
So circumcision shows that Jesus is human like us. It also shows that he is under God's Law with us. He's under God's Law with us, so he can do for us what we can't do for ourselves. We can't keep God's Law. If we want to stay out of hell, we have to keep all of his commandments all of the time. But we have misused God's name. And we've broken every other commandment as well. Circumcision is Jesus volunteering to keep for us all those commandments we haven't kept for ourselves. From the moment of his circumcision, every Jew was obligated to keep all the laws of the Old Testament. From the moment of his circumcision, Jesus was obligated to keep all the laws of the Old Testament-not for himself but for us. Jesus didn't need to get right with God. He is God. But we need to get right with God. Jesus is the only baby ever born who is above God's Law. He's above it, because he established it. But circumcision is Jesus' way of voluntarily taking himself from above God's Law and placing himself under God's Law. Circumcision is Jesus' way of promising you and me that he'll keep all the commandments for us, so that we can be right with God.
All that sounds wonderful-Jesus volunteering to be circumcised for us. But did Jesus really volunteer to be circumcised? He was only eight days old. It's not like Mary and Joseph said, "OK, Jesus, waah once if you want to be circumcised and waah twice if you don't want to be circumcised." Yet being circumcised and obligating himself to keep all the commandments was Jesus' choice. He consciously chose to be born of a Jewish mother, Mary, in part because he knew that would mean he would be circumcised and would have to keep God's Law. He wanted to keep the Law for us. And he did keep the Law for us. On that day of his circumcision and on every day of his life before and after, Jesus did everything the Old Testament said he had to do and nothing that the Old Testament said he couldn't do. He did cared about everyone. He helped countless people. He did all the things we should do.
And here's why that's so important: God counts every one of those works that Jesus did as though it were a work that you did. That's one benefit of Baptism. Baptism is God putting Jesus' saving name on you so you get credit for everything Jesus did right in his entire life. That's why people being baptized so often wear white. White is the color of goodness. The person being baptized may not have done an abundance of good deeds, but Jesus has done a multitude of good deeds. And when you're baptized, all his good deeds are counted as yours when the water is poured and his Word is spoken.
So his circumcision is Jesus' way of putting himself under God's Law with us, so he can keep that Law for us.
Remember, Jesus means "YHWH saves." We've already heard that circumcision shows us that he fulfills that name by becoming human like us and by putting himself under God's Law with us. His circumcision also shows us that he fulfills his name by shedding his blood for us.
To be saved, a person has to have all good works and no sinful works. Jesus has given us all his good works. But how do we get rid of our sinful works? Circumcision is Jesus volunteering to shed his blood to get rid of our sin. Both Leviticus and Hebrews tell us that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness. But Jesus shed his blood. The little blood that he shed on the eighth day of his life was a promise that he would shed all of his blood in the thirty-third year of his life on a cross. On Good Friday, he shed blood from his back when he was beaten, from his head when he was crowned, from his hands and feet when he was nailed, and from his side when he was stabbed. He shed that blood for you. By the shedding of that blood you are forgiven! Your sins against the second commandment and against every other commandment are gone.
And so that you can be sure of his forgiveness, the same Jesus gives you the same blood that he shed to save you when you come to his altar. As he places his body and blood in your mouth, he is pledging that your sin is gone and his name is fulfilled. His name means "YHWH saves" and at his Table you taste and see not only that YHWH saves but that Jesus saves you. What his circumcision hinted would happen did happen: his blood has been shed for you
A circumcision doesn't seem like an occasion for celebration. But as we begin the year 2009, we've discovered that a little blood and a big name make a huge difference every day of our lives.
The Rev. Bruce Keseman serves Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, Freeburg, Illinois. He is a member of the Higher Things Board of Directors. Pr Keseman is also one of this years speakers at Sola.
Created: December 31st, 2008