Reader: “He was named Jesus,”
Response: “the name given him by the angel.”
Scripture: Luke 2:15-21
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.
As we begin a new year, let’s write about naming babies and circumcision for boys on the eighth day. Maybe you could bring up these topics for a lively discussion at halftime of the football games . . . or maybe not! Today is eight days after Christmas when we celebrated the birth of Christ. So we’re keeping the same chronological sequence as the Scriptures. I think such a focus will give us a little deeper understanding of the role of Jesus in connecting both Testaments. The first part of today’s reading gives us the context for the last sentence on which I’d like us to focus. It may seem a little strange, but there are things to be gleaned in each phrase or word.
In reading several Rabbi’s discussions on the “why” of the eighth day, one not surprisingly finds several differing suggestions. The first and most direct one is simply God said to do it on the eighth day (Gen.17:9-14). Numbers are very important symbolically in Judaism. The number seven is the perfect number. E.g. seven colors of the rainbow, seven notes in a musical scale, seven days of creation, etc. Seven is the most sacred number, a number of completeness, of perfection. The eighth day is the symbol of a new order. The Resurrection occurred on the eighth day. The boy has lived through his first week and now it’s time to identify with God and God’s people so he is named and circumcised.
We turn first to circumcision. We’ve mentioned on other occasions (see last year’s January 1 devotional entry) that the medical benefit of doing the procedure specifically on the eighth day is because clotting is at its highest level. But what is the significance? Circumcision was practiced in other cultures and is not unique to Judaism. In the Bible it is symbolic of removal of sin and an old identity and most importantly is a physical mark of inclusion into a covenant community in relationship with God. To use the phrase from the New Living Translation notes, “Circumcision was God’s signature [of his covenant] in the flesh.” p.54. It identified the Jews as God’s chosen covenant people down through the generations.
As the boy grew to adulthood God was concerned with not only the physical act but also a circumcision of the individual’s heart (Deut.16:10). Outwardly it was a symbol of separation from the world, a people set apart for God, and most importantly, the circumcision of the heart was an inward demonstration of faithfulness to and fellowship with God. The act was both outwardly physical and inwardly spiritual.
The second significant event of the eighth day was the naming of the boy. Names were given in reference to a characteristic or quality of that person. For example the Hebrew name of Jacob means “usurper” which is exactly what he did in stealing his brother’s birthright or Abram’s name (“exalted father”) was changed to Abraham (“father of multitudes” (Gen. 17:5). You’ll recall when the angel visited Mary and later Joseph to tell him the news regarding Mary’s pregnancy, he told both of them to name the baby boy, Jesus, and then gave each the meaning of his name, “he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21). This is exactly what Jesus’ mission on earth was and is.
Here we have another example of Joseph and Mary following Jewish law even as their baby boy fulfilled all the directives of God as Jesus identified with sinners from the very first days of his life on earth. What does your own name mean? Do you reflect its meaning or character? Just curious.
Music: “Go Tell It on the Mountain” Mahalia Jackson The Best!
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” Angel City Chorale
Almighty God, have mercy upon us, who, when troubled with the things that are past, lose faith, and life, and courage, and hope. So have mercy upon us, and uphold us, that we, being sustained by a true faith that Thou art merciful and forgiving, may go on in the life of the future to keep Thy commandments, to rejoice in Thy bounty, to trust in Thy mercy, and to hope in the eternal life. Grant unto all of us, whatsoever may betide us, to remember ever that it is all of Thy guidance, under Thy care by Thy will; that so, in darkest days, beholding Thee we may have courage to go on, faith to endure, patience to bear, and hopefulness to hold out, even unto the end. Amen. ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.1