Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The tiny bundle was brought forward. The happy parents gathered around the font, and the congregation stood in eager expectation. Grandparents beamed and sponsors nervously twitched. It was an important day for everyone, but mostly for the little unnamed baby. It was a big day not only because the child was about to receive the promises of God given in the sacrament, but because her name would be spoken in public for the first time. “Dearly beloved…” the pastor began, and continued describing the benefits and blessings that come through Baptism. The promises God makes to His people in baptism that were being made real for this little child. Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for arrived. “Clara Mae Jones, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The sound of water was heard returning into the bowl. And the act was finished. The name was spoken and given. God’s adoption of another lost human being enacted.
That’s the way it was in the old days. Names were not given to children until they were baptized. In some places, you can still find grave markers that say “Baby Smith” “Baby Albert” not just because they died at birth but because they died before baptism. We don’t see it that way any more, and maybe we’ve lost something; some meaning of the importance of a name.
Really that’s the scene we have in this very short Gospel lesson. Luke 2:21 says only this. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21 (ESV) He was named Jesus. Probably like our old tradition, His name was left unspoken until the ceremony. But, it’s not as if Mary and Joseph didn’t know what the name would be. Jesus was given the name that was given by God to Mary and Joseph through angels. But why this name? What kind of meaning is there in the name Jesus?
That’s the topic of the Epistle lesson: It’s a beautiful section of scripture and may have even been a hymn in the early church. It has that melodic ring to it and very nice rhythms that are easily lost in translation from Greek to English. But even more than that, the text is beautiful because of how well it tells us about who Jesus really is. And it does it by telling us the meaning of Jesus’ name. And actually, it’s a great way to begin the New Year: to think about Jesus and His Name and what it means. In fact, there may be no better text to begin a New Year… as we look forward to all the events that it will hold. Especially the things we will remember here at church. Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter.
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:5-13 (ESV)
Jesus and His name are the center of this text. Jesus Christ is Lord! It says.
This is the name which we believe in our hearts. This is the name we confess with our lips. It’s the name we confess together here week after week. At the mention of this name, we bow together in holy awe. It is the desire to place this name into the hearts and upon the lips of all people that motivated the forming of this congregation. Jesus Christ is Lord! What’s the name all about? What does this name mean? It means everything!
He is Jesus. Jesus, born in a stable (as we just celebrated!), laid in a manger, raised in humble surroundings by humble parents, Mary and Joseph. Jesus “born in the likeness of men.” Jesus the baby, the boy, the man, “true man born of the Virgin Mary.” Jesus was a man, a true human being. Just as human as you and me. Breathing the same air. Living a life very much like yours. “Being found in human form.” Like you and me in every way, except without sin. The One who bears this name, Jesus, is truly human.
He is Lord. That’s the part of his name that tells us that he’s not only human but also God. That’s the “name that is above every other name.” Jesus is Lord means that He, and no one else, is Lord of all. God above all things. True God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He is truly God. Equal by nature, not by force. The one who bears this name is completely God.
He is Christ. Christ means Messiah, or anointed one, Savior. This part of His name means that the one who is man and God is the one who through His life and through His suffering and death restores the broken relationship between God and human beings. He does it by pouring out himself on the cross for us. He did it by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The cross is were we find out who this person really is and what is really involved in His name. Because it is at the cross that we see more clearly than anywhere else what this Name means to us, what it means that our Savior is both God and Man. “For us and our salvation,” as the creed says. Jesus Christ was hanged on a cross to take away the guilt and punishment of our sin. What does it mean to you and me that Jesus did that? Very much! Really it means everything to you and me.
Jesus Christ is man. Because he was human, what He did, the life he lived he was able live in our place. He was no outsider. He wasn’t an impostor, not pretending to be human, but truly and completely human. Everything he did he did as a living human being. He could take your place and mine in life because he was an equivalent substitute, except that He never sinned. He was perfect and didn’t deserve punishment. He didn’t deserve the wages of sin. But since he was truly human the punishment he received, was valid punishment for human beings. The punishment of Jesus Christ was punishment for you. It is the punishment and death of the Human being Jesus Christ, for you.
Jesus Christ is God. Jesus was not forced to die. He was instead a willing recipient of death on the cross. He didn’t do it for himself. He did it for you. It is the fact that Jesus is God that makes His death sufficient for all people everywhere for all time. No matter how many billions and billions of people ever live, the death of Jesus true God, is enough to satisfy their punishment and death. The death of Jesus is good enough for you.
That’s what this name Jesus gives us. This man, this humble servant, bleeding dying on the cross, is God. He is God and Man together. That is the very remarkable thing that His name tells us: This Man is God. God is this Man.
at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
What is this name to you? Well, these days we don’t save the naming of our children until baptism. You have to write something on the birth certificate before they’ll let you leave the hospital. (Believe me I tried!) But in a way, we are still named at our baptism. We are given the name of Jesus. And when that happens God promises everything that Jesus did, His life, His death and especially His resurrection are yours. We are placed into the name of Jesus! I baptize you in the name of the Father… God uses simple water and His promise to make the work of Jesus, God and Man, yours. And we gather here together in the name of that same Jesus. We receive the gifts He has to give us: rescue from sin, death and the power of Satan. It’s all here in Word and Sacrament. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. The body and blood shed on the cross for you and given to you here, given freely, because of the One in who’s name we gather.
So, what’s the name of Jesus to you? Nothing less than everything. Everything you believe about God is wrapped up in the name of Jesus. His name tells you everything about who God is and what He has done to save you. His name tells you how he brings that salvation human beings, and how he brings that same salvation right to you. In the name of Jesus… Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.