Name of Jesus (Circumcision of our Lord), preached 1/1/17
first reading: Numbers 6:22-27
second reading: Galatians 4:4-7
gospel reading: Luke 2:15-21
This morning’s gospel reading begins with the story of the shepherds, which we read on Christmas Eve, and ends with the event of our special commemoration today – the naming and circumcision of our Lord.
Along with the story of his birth, the story of Jesus’ circumcision places him in a specific place and time, and in a specific culture and faith. Our God is not a god that comes to us out of context.
Jesus was born into a family that was under Roman rule – a brutal oppressive government which he would experience personally. As a child, Jesus and his family would have to flee Israel to Egypt, because King Herod wanted the newborn king the Wise Men spoke of, killed. Herod wanted no threat to his power, and would go to the extreme of killing all the baby boys. It was a death sentence, that through the family’s fleeing to Egypt, Jesus escaped.
But Jesus did NOT escape the death sentence of the crucifixion – another brutal, cruel fixture of the Roman Empire. A very long and agonizing way to die.
But Jesus wasn’t just born into a specific time in history, he was also born into a specific faith and culture. He was born a Jew.
His Jewish identity formed him from the time of his circumcision to the time of his death. Marked and named on his 8th day, a trip to the Temple itself when he was 12, sitting at the feet of the rabbis, quoting from the Hebrew scriptures from the beginning of his earthly ministry until its end on the cross, honoring the Sabbath, celebrating Passover – Jesus was a Jew.
Why is it important that we remember Jesus being born, living, and dying in a specific time and place? I mean, isn’t he our savior for ALL time and place? Isn’t he OUT of any particular context?
Well, certainly Jesus was more than a first century Jew. He came in a specific context, but he most definitely TRANSCENDS time and place. He was not just the savior for his first disciples – he is our savior for ALL time.
But context DOES tell us something. It tells us that God didn’t cut corners when Jesus came to be with us. God put Jesus right into the thick of it. God didn’t pick a time when it was easy to be Jewish, or when it was easy to be a non-Roman. God chose to come to us as a persecuted religious minority, as a member of a population that was exploited and victimized. Indeed, God in Jesus became exploited and victimized for you and me.
This is incredibly important, because you and I do NOT have a savior/God who is unable to understand our lives. Because of the context in which he was born and lived and died – even though VERY different from our context in 2017 – Jesus experienced all the same things we do, and even some things we’ve been lucky NOT to have experienced. Jesus felt happiness, sorrow, love, pain, grief, doubts, confusion, success and failure.
He lived in a real family with real family tension. Remember the story of Jesus’ parents losing him when they went on the pilgrimage to the Temple, and his response to their worry? “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know where I’d be?” (Luke 2:41-52) Such a typical adolescent reaction, it even translates well now!
His first miracle at Cana, when his mother wants him to do something about the lack of wine – he has a testy response to her request, but he listens to her anyway. (John 2:1-12) And from the cross, he makes sure that Mary will be taken care of after his death, when he says to the beloved disciple, “behold your mother.” (John 19:27)
Jesus GETS it. He lived a REAL life, in a real family, in a real culture.
The Incarnation is “God WITH us.” Not just with us in some overly spiritual fashion, but with us eating and breathing, walking, talking and sleeping.
So when we’re frustrated with our lives, when we’re in pain, when we feel we’ve been betrayed, when we’re frightened, when our bodies are broken, when we grieve, Jesus is truly WITH US because he’s been there too.
He is not just a god of earthly triumph, sent to praise and reward the strong and powerful. Jesus is God come to lift up the fallen, heal the broken, forgive the sinful and bring life to the dying.
That’s an amazing comfort, a tremendous source of strength, a guiding light.
Our God comes to be with us, experience everything we experience, and to conquer it all – even death – so that we ARE never, and WILL never be alone or forsaken, so that we can be with him as his own – forever.