Text: Numbers 6:22-27
Date: Circumcision and Name of Jesus + First Sunday after Christmas + New Year’s Day + 1/1/12
We tend to hear this shortest Gospel reading of the year as a mere report of events, not unlike a short announcement in the newspaper, “just the facts:” “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.” Period. That’s it and that takes care of that.
In a similar way every Sunday are we tempted to just let the final words of the Aaronic benediction slip by us like so many required words of legal disclosure at the end of a commercial. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Well, that’s nice. Thank you. And that takes care of that.
Today our infant Savior is given a name, and we are given a name. But what takes care of what? Why all the hubbub over names?
Well, the Law required, as God spoke to Abraham of old, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised…. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised” (Gen 17:9-10, 12). So Joseph and Mary brought their newborn Jewish Child to the temple to be circumcised on the eighth day since His birth. And that took care of that. But, did you ever wonder, why the eighth day? It is the eternal day, the Day of resurrection and reconciliation with God and new life, even from the beginning! That’s why we’ve gathered here today, not just because it’s New Year’s Day, not on the seventh day of the week nor even the first of another week, but on the eighth day, the eternal day, the day full of grace from God and salvation for dying souls.
The Babe received the sign of the covenant of God, the covenant that pointed to the forgiveness of sins and new life in the Messiah. Yes! Here is the Messiah, and the very first blood shed by Him for us and for our salvation, for it is “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son that cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
“And how is this child to be named?” There was no question about it. No baby name books or fussy discussion. Mary and Joseph had been commanded by God through the angel and he was called Jesus, a relatively common name of the time. “Joshua,” “Yeshua.” It means “God saves.” But this Child would be the only One who would, who could live up to His name.
And that’s it. That takes care of that. That is until you are commanded to believe in this name, to be baptized in, or into this name, to confess both the sins He takes away and the faith He gives. Such faith and confession is not such an easy, automatic, undemanding, uncomplicated thing. So that doesn’t necessarily take care of that, at least that easily.
Similarly with the Aaronic benediction. “Bless you,” we say to someone after they sneeze. But why? What is a blessing? And why this blessing? Well, for one thing this blessing tells who and how and why we need God’s blessing.
Two years after God led His people out of the slavery of Egypt He prepared them to be His people in this world. He was making them a nation along side of the nations of the world. He gave them Laws to regulate their life together. But more than that they were to be different than the nations of the world, indeed, a light among nations, the light of the deliverance of God. And so they were also made a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that they may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). For their moral and spiritual order He set apart the Levites to serve at the sanctuary of God, the priests being Aaron and his sons. Besides being the original “altar guild,” the priests were to pronounce, to give out, to impose the blessing of God.
It is this blessing that conveys, gives and makes God’s people, makes us His representatives to the nations. In the same way does the Church serve the world today. And today we need God’s blessing more than ever as we (those who still confess and defend the sound doctrine of the Bible) as we appear increasingly smaller and weaker and even despised in the world.
It is a three-part blessing. The first part: “The Lord bless you and keep you.” It is the most general but conveys God’s will and desire of all good to His people and His promise of preservation from the evil of the world. When God thus blesses you He is promising to be your Defender. Luther says this first part of the blessing has to do especially with this bodily life and goods. God promises to protect and keep you in your body, your house and home, your family and all things pertaining to this life.
The second part: “The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.” The face of God is His gracious personality. Light shines from His face sending rays of mercy into hearts in need of salvation. Luther notes this part of the blessing is spiritual for the soul.
The third part: “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” To lift up His countenance is to look at you with His mercy and grace. The peace He gives is our consolation and final victory over sins forgiven and relationship restored.
When we receive this blessing we receive and take the Word of the gospel with us, the Word that shines in our countenance and heart, the Word that overcomes the devil, death, sin, any adversity, all terror or despair.
This is the power of the name of God the Lord. And now in His personal name, Jesus, God becomes one with us, and we with Him. In Him we are made a holy nation, “that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” “Listen to that final word! Receive the Benediction of our Lord. Accept the blessing He imparts. For whatever need you may experience in the week [or year!] ahead, this is His supply of grace. Whatever danger threatens, He is your Security and Refuge. Whatever venture demands your time and energy, with Him it can be a great adventure. Whatever burden you may know will be His burden.” Today you are given a name. And that really does take care of that.
 Alton Wedel, “Chin Up!?”, CPH 1969, p. 94.