Jesus Blesses Us with His Name and Saves Us with His Blood
Our newborn God keeps the Law for us and brings Abraham’s promises to their fulfillment when He is circumcised. It is there that the Name above all names is “bestowed on Him” (Phil. 2:9), “the Name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”: Jesus, “the Lord saves” (Luke 2:21, Holy Gospel). He sheds the first drops of His precious blood in accordance with this Name and in anticipation of His cross, “for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The law’s captivity gives way to the freedom of faith in Christ Jesus, who cuts a new covenant in His blood to be received by faith, whether male or female, Jew or Greek (Gal. 3:23–28, Second Lesson). His Name is given to us in Holy Baptism, and we are made sons of God and “heirs according to promise,” true offspring of Abraham by faith (Gal. 3:29). Eight days after the celebration of our Lord’s birth, a new “Year of our Lord” is begun in Jesus’ holy Name and with His benediction. Jesus is the Lord, and by this Name we are blessed (Num. 6:22–27, First Lesson).
On the cover are objects that connect closely to today’s celebration of the circumcision and naming of Jesus. A knife, embedded with jewels and engraved with the sign of the cross is a reminder of the act of circumcision that took place eight days after the birth of Jesus. This knife is not an ordinary knife, but ceremonial in nature, indicating that this rite isn’t just some ordinary action taking place. For a male Israelite, this act would not only place him under the obligations of the Law, but would also entitle him to the covenant promise of God to send a Savior. So the same is true of Christ. This act is not merely symbolic. Through his circumcision he places himself under the Law of God, and declares, through the first shedding of his blood, that he is the promised Savior from sin.
Also adorning the cover is a Hebrew word (read right-to-left): “Yeshua.” It is the Old Testament name “Joshua,” which means “he saves.” This name was common in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. It would not have turned any heads at the Temple that morning. However, as the angel Gabriel reminded Joseph, this small child “would save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). What an appropriate name given to a baby who already, through his perfect obedience to the Law (of being circumcised on the eighth day), would indeed save us all from our sins!
In the beginning God created all things through His Word, His Son. But man fell into sin, and with man all creation was cursed. Therefore, God spoke His Word again, this time into the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle of our human nature (Ex. 40:17–21, 34–38, First Lesson). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1–14, Holy Gospel). The Son of God took on our flesh and blood and died on the cross in order that we might receive the right to become the children of God through faith. Baptized into Christ’s body, we are made partakers of a new Genesis, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4–7, Second Lesson). In Christ, the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man has truly appeared.
Already on the eighth day of Jesus’ life, his destiny of atonement is revealed in his name and in his circumcision. At that moment, his blood is first shed and Jesus receives the name given to him by the angel: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). In the circumcision of Jesus, all people are circumcised once and for all, because he represents all humanity. In the Old Testament, for the believers who looked to God’s promise to be fulfilled in the Messiah, the benefits of circumcision included the forgiveness of sins, justification, and incorporation into the people of God. In the New Testament, St. Paul speaks of its counterpart, Holy Baptism, as a “circumcision made without hands” and as “the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11).
With the glory of the Lord still shining from Luke 2, we assemble once again to celebrate with joy the Word made flesh. The mystery of the incarnation is beyond us. Yet we are blessed to participate in him who is born the Bread of Life in the House of Bread. How beautiful is the good news! How radiant his glory! How perfect his timing! How gracious is the Father to give us his son for us and for our salvation!
Within the Church Year, the Festival of Christmas is actually celebrated on Christmas Day (as we will do tomorrow morning). The Festival of Christmas, like the festival of Easter, is celebrated with a vigil. The word “vigil” is from the Latin word meaning, “watchfulness.” Our English word “vigilant,” is a derivative of this word. As we have heard during the season of Advent, we were encouraged to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and to keep watch—to be vigilant for the coming of Christ. Tonight, we see the culmination of the Advent season as we “keep watch” for Christmas Day.
In modern times, vigils have been used to commemorate or observe an important or tragic event or the death of a notable or significant person. They are usually celebrated in a muted and calm way, and often involve the use of candles.
In the Christian Church vigils have been used in very much the same way. However, the focus has always been and will always be on Christ. Traditionally the Christmas Vigil has been celebrated late in the evening in order that the end of the service coincides with the changing from December 24th to December 25th at midnight. Tonight, with Christians around the world, we gather once again at the Christmas Vigil, waiting and watching for the coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem.
Zechariah had learned to trust God’s promises. After months of silence, he bursts forth to sing of God’s promises kept (note the aorists!) Blessed be the God of Israel who has come to redeem his people. The struggle with sin of spiritual Israel was over. Salvation has come just as the LORD, the God of free and faithful grace, had sworn by his own name. With the joy of salvation and the confidence of promises fulfilled, we fearlessly serve the LORD in righteousness.