Sermon delivered by Bobbi Kraft at Grace Episcopal Church, Sheboygan, WI
Holy Name of Jesus, January 1, 2017
Happy New Year!
Out with the old and in with the new. Did you ever stop to wonder where that phrase comes from? Every year, people around the globe say it or something similar as the clock approaches midnight on December 31st. But why? As a chaplain at Georgetown University, I often hear my students stop at moments like this and say to each other, “I’ll Google it.” Clearly, no one has thought of that when it comes to the phrase, “Out with the old and in with the new!”
Turns out, it’s of Scottish origin. From the Douglas clan. Turns out Lee Douglas IV was upset. Lee kicked his mom out of the house for being a prostitute and replaced her oversight of his house with a new, young mistress. Hence, out with the old and in with the new was coined…or at least that’s what you’ll find out if you Google it. Mom as a prostitute. Not exactly the kind of thing everyone thinks of when they hear the phrase. And most likely NOT the kind of thing you expected to hear from me this morning!
But, then, why are we here? What DO we expect?
This morning, we celebrate the naming of our Lord: Jesus. Yeshua. Joshua, even. There are over 100 names associated with Jesus in the Bible. But this morning, we hear the name the angel told both Mary and Joseph to call their son…Jesus.
This past summer I served as a chaplain at The Hebrew Home back in DC. Despite being a Jewish elder care facility, I remember one of the first times I heard the blessing that is so familiar. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. I’d heard it how many times yet never realized it was from the Old Testament. I gave thanks this past summer that we shared a common prayer.
I learned a lot about Jewish spirituality, prayers, and traditions. It is Jewish tradition that on the eighth day, boys are ritually circumcised, blessed, and named. Now, I should add that as mother to two girls, with no primary knowledge of circumcision, I was pleased to learn that there are traditional customs for the naming of girls that take place in the synagogue on days when the Torah is read.
In addition to the 8th day, in either case, male or female, the child’s name is considered prophetic and, as such, it is customary that the parents not discuss the names with others prior to the naming. Boy, that’s sure not how we do things today! In today’s society, we hardly even can wait till the birth to find out whether it’s a boy or a girl! People today hold “reveal” parties long before the baby shows up. In fact, as I found out when Kaleigh was born, it’s no longer even possible to leave the hospital without naming the child…for social security purposes. (Though you are allowed to change the name once during the first year without charge.) So much for waiting until the eighth day to keep the name private! Out with the old and in with the new.
But, why? Why are we here discussing “naming rituals” of the Jewish faith? Well, because Jesus was born into a good Jewish family. We sometimes spend very little time considering that fact. Jesus, the Son of God, was born…a baby…into a Jewish family…and, on the eighth day circumcised…cut with a knife…bleeding…blessed…and named “Yeshua”…Jesus.
Throughout Advent we heard the parallel pregnancy stories of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. We heard how in both instances an angel of the Lord provided these parents with the names for their children. In the case of Zechariah, he couldn’t speak for months until that 8th day circumcision arrived and Elizabeth announced that the baby’s name was to be John. In Luke 1:59, it says “they were going to name him Zechariah” but Elizabeth says “No! He will be called John.” And then the “they” go to get the answer from Zechariah himself. And he writes out “His name is John.” And, at that, he regains his ability to speak.
Can you imagine it!?! All of that hubbub around the naming of John. How dare Elizabeth not name him Zechariah? Wait. Zechariah is in agreement? And, now he can talk!?! For the past month, we have heard throughout the Lukan passages the parallels between these two births. This year, though, it struck me…no one questions Mary and Joseph naming their baby Jesus. Was it because of all the upheaval that had already happened in the family surrounding the naming of John! It gave new meaning to me for the idea that John was to “prepare the way” for Jesus. Can you imagine some of the people at synagogue hearing that this baby also would NOT be named after his father!?! Just like that cousin of theirs! And, I love how Luke gave us huge details when it came to the circumcision and naming of John. Yet, here, in verse 21 it simply says, “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
I love Luke. John is considered the poet among the Gospels, but there’s something about Luke that I enjoy more. It could be what writer Michael Card sums up nicely with the title of his book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement. Amazement. Luke uses various Greek words throughout his gospel that translate to amazed, marvel, wonder, astonished, astounded, spellbound, trance, astonishment, amazement. Nearly twenty times! Matthew and Mark do as well, though not as much. And, John, well John is only amazed six times. Six times. Maybe Luke truly was the physician historians have pegged him to be. Because, is there anything more amazing than the human body!?! Jesus…in human form.
Which brings me back to the question of why we’re here today and discussing the act of circumcision on our Lord. It’s because we are here today looking back at and still talking about a birth that took place over 2000 years ago! I don’t know, but that’s pretty amazing to me! And, because we look at Jesus’ life through the 20/20 lens of history, we already know what Paul shares with us today in Philippians: Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
We know who Jesus was and is. But, for Mary and Joseph, they only know what they’ve been told by the angel about who Jesus was but, as pious Jews, they still needed to adhere to the laws of the old covenant. Jesus was with them, but the new covenant had not fully been established yet. They still needed to raise this child. Jesus, from the house of David. They would need to raise him as such. Jesus would be raised under the rules of the old covenant while being present in order to establish the new covenant. Born into the old to usher in the new.
So I go back to the original question. Why are we here? Why, on New Year’s Day 2017 are we gathered together in a church in Sheboygan. We could be home in bed. We may have had a late night. Why are we here?
Why are we here today? We’ve heard all this before. Are we here today because it’s what we’re “supposed to do?” Are we here to get our “spiritual cards” punched? Or, are we here because we live in a world in need of Jesus. Many of us have heard these stories so many times we can tell them ourselves. Huh, is that the point?
You see, before Jesus was named, Mary and Joseph knew who he was. But, according to our Gospel this morning, so did the shepherds. After the angels left, they got together and talked about what they should do. Common shepherds didn’t waste any time in getting to the manger. They made known what had been told them about this child. They made known. And those who heard it…who heard it, were amazed. We like to think it was the shepherds who were in awe and amazed…but the scripture points out that it was those who heard it who were amazed.
Out with the old and in with the new? Is it possible that this old story is made new each time we share it? This old story is made new in our retelling.
We are here today because we are the shepherds. We are here to hear these stories, these “old” stories and make them “new” in our lives. We come together as the Church on Sundays and throughout the week not to get out “spiritual cards” punched but to help one another find wonder and amazement at what God does in each of our lives. To be filled each week so that we will go out into the world and, like the shepherds did, make it known. Make it known that Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth, born a babe in a manger, shed his blood for the first on the 8th day and would again later in his life on a cross for the redemption of our sins. His death followed by his resurrection.
We get to share this old story anew for the wonder and amazement of the world. We are here today so that we will go out into the world to share the Good News: Jesus.