Today within the Church Year is the celebration of the feast of the “Name and Circumcision of Jesus,” sometimes simply called the “Circumcision of Jesus.”
The Gospel reading for the feast is really short, one sentence in fact. It’s from Luke 2:21: “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.” It’s the next thing that happens in Luke’s Gospel after the shepherds come to see Jesus and return to their fields, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2: 20).
Why do we celebrate this day? There’s really three main things we see going on in the one sentence reading from Luke. First, Jesus came as one born under the Law and will fulfill all of God’s Law for us. Second, he is actually given the name “Jesus,” which means “Yahweh saves.” Third, his blood is shed for the first time as he is circumcised, foreshadowing that Yahweh will save us through the blood of this Jesus. So, in this one event we see Yahweh in the flesh who has come both to fulfill the Law on our behalf (beginning with his own circumcision where his blood is shed) and atoning for our failures to fulfill the Law ourselves (ending with the shredding of his blood on the cross).
Jesus is both true God and true man, the only one who can save us. We cannot be perfect as God’s Law demands, nor can we make atonement for our sins. So, God came in the flesh to do this all for us: “Yahweh saves.”
As we focused on during the Advent season and last Sunday on Christmas, Jesus had been promised long ago. God’s Law served, and still serves, to show us that we are sinners in need of this Savior, the Christ. Paul writes in Galatians that we were held captive by the Law as our guardian “until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:23ff). The point is that the Law is not an end unto itself. It condemns our sins, but God doesn’t leave us in this condemnation. Instead, He sent His own Son into the flesh, Jesus the Christ, our Savior, in order to be our Yahweh who saves us.
Who is Yahweh? The ancient Hebrews called God “Yahweh,” because in Exodus 3 when Moses meets God through the burning bush, he asks God for His name. God replies simply, “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). In response, Moses and the Hebrews called Him “Yahweh,” meaning “He who is,” or “He who causes to be.”
Yahweh is the One who created all things. He created all that exists, including the first man and woman – Adam and Eve. They sinned by rebelling against His rule, and yet He didn’t destroy them or allow them to live in a state of eternal sin and alienation apart from Him, each other, and creation. Instead, He promised a Savior who would save them from this sin and restore them to God, each other, and creation itself (by removing death from the world).
In the Advent season we focused on the coming of this Savior as well as his ultimate return at the end of the Age to complete what he started by finally casting out sin and death forever and resurrecting all people in order to bring his saints, the entire Church, into his restored creation.
Now today, in the Feast of the Name and Circumcision of Jesus, we get a little more glimpse into just who this Savior is.
He truly is Yahweh, come to fulfill His promises. We have learnt that Yahweh is one God in three persons, a Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father has sent the Son into the flesh to be our salvation, and later (after Pentecost following the Son’s death and resurrection for us) they will pour out the Holy Spirit upon the entire Church. This is the way that our Triune God has chosen to act for our salvation.
The early New Testament Church referred to this as the “Divine Economy,” which means simply that God has decided – due to His own reasons – to effect our salvation in this way. Each Person of the Trinity is fully God – Yahweh – and yet each One fulfills a certain role in our salvation.
If you think about this for a minute, then you start to realize just how gracious our God really is. Yahweh – He who just is – cares enough about us to save us. Each Person of the Trinity is active in our salvation: the Father sending the Son, the Son dying and rising for us, the Holy Spirit bringing us to faith in the Son for our salvation. “He who is and who causes to be” has caused our salvation and gives it to us freely, as a gift.
What is more, he comes in the flesh to do it: Jesus the Christ, one born under the Law to fulfill the Law for us and to shed his blood for us on the cross. He came to fulfill the commission given to him by the Father as a dutiful Son, doing the will of the Father to save us from our sins. Yahweh, truly, does save us, and we get a glimpse of it as he – having come in the flesh – sheds his blood on this day at his circumcision which will ultimately lead up to the shedding of his blood on the cross.
(Image Circumcision of Christ, Menologion of Basil II, 979-984. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8915912)