Already, morning news shows have featured the celebrations in Australia and New Zealand, complete with revelers counting down, and then fireworks being set off at the moment of midnight. I heard that drinking establishments all across the land expect to do brisk business tonight; for many of them, this is their biggest night of the year, the bar-and-tavern equivalent to “Black Friday” for retailers. On this night, many will be celebrating, and many of us will join, in some way, in celebrating … what? The New Year! What does it mean? For most of us, it signals changes that have to do with bookkeeping: end-of-year charitable contributions to be counted for tax purposes and remembering to write 2019 on our checks instead of 2018—for those of us who still use checks. Well, remember it on other documents you have to sign, when you have to put down the date you signed them. Surely, it must mean more than that, though. What else does this celebration mean? Why all the merriment? Some will try to stay up till midnight, to ring in the New Year with shouts of “Happy New Year,” kisses and hugs, and champagne toasts. How many of you plan to watch the ball drop in Times Square?
Remember the run-up to the end of the year in 1999? Yes, it was nineteen years ago; but surely you remember the scare of the “Y2K bug.” Fears ran rampant that the computer systems on which we depend for so much were going to crash, potentially leaving us without access to our bank accounts, government records, and so on, because when the year turned from 1999 to 2000, many computers would not recognize the year as 2000 but as 1900 instead. There were also predictions of apocalyptic disasters, some related to the Y2K bug, others having nothing to do with that. Rather, some self-declared “prophets” were warning of the impending return of Christ and the end of the world, often simply because of the year number. What does Christ Jesus Himself say about our preparation for His return?
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Lk 12:35–40).
Jesus is saying, “Be ready for My return at any time.” How do we “stay dressed for action”? How do we “keep [our] lamps burning”? It is the Lord who clothes us and who supplies the oil for our lamps. His Holy Spirit clothes us in Holy Baptism with the robe of Christ’s righteousness, and He gives us the armor of God to be ready “for action” when our Master calls us. Through the hearing and study of His Word, we receive the oil to keep our lamps burning. If you would like an updated lamp image—after all, you use electric lights, not oil lamps—then remember that God the Holy Spirit is called “the Power from on high” (Lk 24:49) and “the Energy of God” (Col 2:12), so He is the Source of the power or energy we need to keep our lights on as we await our Master’s coming. In the end, it means that we need to stay connected to Christ where He promises to be, in His Church, through His Word and Sacrament, where He serves us.
Of course, we know that there is something more to celebrate as we approach the Eighth Day of Christmas: “And when eight days were fulfilled for circumcising Him, His name was called JESUS, which was so called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21). On the eighth day from His birth, according to the LORD’s command to His people, Jesus was circumcised, and His blood was first shed, as one of our New Year’s hymns says, “His infant body now / Begins the cross to feel; / Those precious drops of blood that flow / For death the victim seal” (LSB 898, st. 3). By the established, ancient custom of His people, this eight-day-old boy is also given His name on the eighth day. The Hebrew name Yehoshua or Y’shua, Joshua, Iēsous, Jesus in Greek, means “salvation” or “YHWH, the LORD, saves.” Other boys had been given this name by their parents, and still are given this name today. What’s different about this boy being so named? Why celebrate this? The Evangelists Matthew and Luke tell us that both His earthly, adoptive father and His mother gave Him this name. How often does that happen, that both parents agree on a child’s name? It doesn’t happen without a whole lot of discussion, does it? Yet this name wasn’t discussed; it was decreed, as angels of the Lord gave God’s command to both Mary and Joseph: “You shall call His name Jesus*, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21; *Lk 1:31).
When we began a week ago to celebrate His birth, there was no mystery about His name. We were singing, “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,” and if any of the shepherds would have asked Mary or Joseph the Baby’s name, they would have answered, “Jesus.” We could also sing, “Jesus, Lord at Thy conception,” and it would be true. He was Lord and God in the womb, and at His birth. Jesus is the “Name decreed of old,” as the Psalmist declares, “The LORD is my strength and song, and He is become to me Salvation” (Ps 118:14) and as He declares through the Prophet Isaiah, “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior … I, I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior” (Isa 43:3, 11). Yet, amazingly, this holy Name was given to this holy, sinless Child by sinful parents, as the hymn says: “Humbled for a season, / To receive a name / From the lips of sinners / Unto whom He came, / Faithfully He bore it, / Spotless to the last, / Brought it back victorious / When from death He passed” (LSB 512, st. 3). Though sinners, they were obedient, as believers. He is perfectly obedient. This is The Name, “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 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” (Php 2:9–11). On the eighth day, at His circumcision, when He first began to feel the cross, He was given this name by His parents on earth. Yet St. Paul tells us that His heavenly Father also gave Jesus this exalted name: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him” this name above all names. Why? Because the Son took “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php 2:7–8). The name that is His by right as the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Savior from all eternity, He has also earned in time by His work of salvation for us: His humility, His birth, His service, His crucifixion and death.
Because of His incarnation, because of His birth, because of His circumcision, because of His growing, because of His life, because of His obedience, because of His serving, because of His suffering, because of His death, because of His burial, because of His resurrection, because of His ascension, because of His sitting at the right hand of God—all of this is what His name, JESUS, means—because of all this, because of His name, because of Him, everything has changed. Nothing remains the same as before; nothing can remain the same as before. The Eighth Day—the day of His circumcision and of His resurrection—marks the Beginning of the New Creation. Into this Name, this most holy Name, with the Name of the Father and the Holy Spirit, you are baptized, you are changed, you are made a new creation in Christ. You, rebellious sinner, who thought you were your own, this Name is put on you, and you now belong to the One whose Name it is. Once-rebellious sinners, still rebellious flesh. You belong to Jesus, to God Almighty. How shall you show that you belong to Him, that His Name really, truly means something to you? First, I should ask: Does it? Does this Name mean something to you? It should mean everything, for the One to whom this Name belongs is Lord and Maker of everything. “He is the image (icon) of the invisible God … For by Him all things were created … all things were created through Him and for Him” who “[made] peace [and reconciliation of all things to Himself] by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:15–16, 20). This Name of Jesus means blood, holy, innocent, precious blood, more costly than gold or silver or any such thing, was shed for you, to cover you, to cover your sin, to cover you with His love and forgiveness —even on the eighth day, when He is but a Babe. He is your Maker and your Redeemer and your Sanctifier, your Regenerator.
How then shall you carry His holy Name and show forth Its worth and value to you? Let’s listen to wiser counsel, a man named John, whose teaching has lasted for over sixteen centuries. He is such a blessed preacher that he was nicknamed “Goldenmouth,” Chrysostom in the Greek. “On the Holy Name” he says:
All whatsoever you do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father through Him (Col. 3: 17).
For if we thus do, there will be nothing polluted, nothing unclean, wherever Christ is called on. If you eat, if you drink, if you marry, if you travel, do all in the Name of God, that is, calling Him to aid you: in everything first praying to Him, so take hold of your business. Would you speak somewhat? Set this in front. For this cause we also place in front of our epistles the Name of the Lord. Wheresoever the Name of God is, all is auspicious. For if the names of Consuls [government officials] make writings sure, much more does the Name of Christ. …
And what is it to “do in word or in deed”? Either requesting or performing anything whatever. Hear how in the Name of God Abraham sent his servant; David in the Name of God slew Goliath. Marvelous is His Name and great. … For he that does this has for his ally, God, without whom he dare do nothing. … Invoke the Son, give thanks to the Father. For when the Son is invoked, the Father is invoked, and when He is thanked, the Son has been thanked.
These things let us learn, not as far as words only, but to fulfill them also by works. Nothing is equal to this Name, marvelous is it everywhere. “Thy Name,” he says, “is ointment poured forth” (Song 1:3). He that has uttered it is straightaway filled with fragrance. “No man,” it is said, “can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3). So great things does this Name work. If you have said, In the Name of Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost, with faith, you have accomplished everything. …
By this Name has the world been converted, the tyranny dissolved, the devil trampled on, the heavens opened. We have been regenerated by this Name. If we have this [Name], we beam forth; This [Name] makes both martyrs and confessors; let us hold fast this [Name] as a great gift, that we may live in glory, and be well-pleasing to God, and be counted worthy of the good things promised to those who love Him, through the grace and lovingkindness, through Christ Our Lord, to Whom be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
And the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.