People loved by God, what joy our readings open up for us this first day of the new year – for aside from being the first day of a new year in our civil calendar, this day is the 8th day from Christmas, and thus it marks the day when the child Jesus was circumcised and given His own name – the name that the angel had revealed to the Blessed Virgin and to St. Joseph before he had even been born: Jesus.
You can’t read very far along in the Sacred Scriptures before you notice what a big thing this “naming” is – Adam, naming the beasties in Eden; God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham; God instructing His priests, as in today’s first reading, in how to put His name upon the people “and I will bless them.” Names in the Bible are anything but a distinguishing tag so you don’t get Johnny confused with Jimmy. They are revelatory – they disclose a person’s proper relation to God Himself or God’s own relation to people.
So the big deal of the name given THIS day, only name given under heaven by which we must be saved: Jesus. For this name is shared by God and Man – He who is one person in two natures bears this name and it discloses the innermost ache of the divine heart: to save. Jesus means Yahweh saves.
His desire is to save you, to rescue you, to deliver you from bondage to sin, from all that makes your life bitter and miserable by your own doing or from that of others. “Save” in Greek implies also “heal.” He wants to heal you, to restore you, to bring you into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
For, as St. Paul in today’s epistle points out: “before faith came we were held captive under the law.” Satan has us by rights. And the law – that immutable expression of the divine will for all human life – well, all it could do was inform us of what we were not – and thus accuse us for not living as we ought. The Law condemns – not because the Law is bad, but because the Law is good, and we sadly, by birth are not.
But good news! Yahweh saves. Yahweh comes into the flesh and even allows that flesh of His to be cut in keeping with the covenant to Abraham and the Law given through Moses. He is only 8 days old, and He allows His little infant blood to flow. And in this, He shows us the two-fold way that He intends to save us.
First, we need righteousness – we need a real, honest-to-God human “yes” to the Father’s will and ways that is unbroken, untarnished, free and joyful, all the way from conception to death. We need such a righteousness and the Law shows us that we do not have it. But lo, Jesus, Yahweh saves! He comes into our flesh to provide that absolutely flawless “yes” to the Father which all human beings owe and which no human being save Him has ever been able to fulfill. He comes to be our righteousness; and such righteousness as He is, He gives you as your own. We call that faith – the being given to by your Jesus.
Oh, but there is more. Bloodshed today. From that sinless infant, for He indeed has come to shed His blood. Not merely to be your righteousness with His unbroken “yes” for there is more to the Law than demanding that you keep it. The Law also reveals the terror of the wrath of God – His threat to punish with temporal and eternal punishments those who do not keep it. “Cursed,” says Moses, “is everyone who does not continue in all the words of this law TO DO THEM.” You need not only the gift of a perfect righteousness, You need a substitute to stand for you under your just deserts from the Law. And you have one: “Yahweh saves!” Your Jesus.
Today you may celebrate with great joy both our Lord’s obedience on our behalf and His willingness to assume the consequences of our countless “no’s” to the Father. Today you may dance with glee that Yahweh Saves comes into your flesh to grant you both gifts.
His incarnation through to His cross is what marks His obedience for us; His cross through to His resurrection is what marks His sufferings on our behalf and the Father’s glad testimony that the Son’s offering avails for you and for all! That’s how He did it. And then there’s how He delivers it. Did you hear it in today’s epistle?
“For in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ…if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
Baptism is how He gives you everything that is His – His perfect obedience, yours, clothing, wrapping itself around you, so that you shine in His perfect “yes." And in Baptism He gives you the gift of having been the Lamb on whom your sins were laid so that they can no longer accuse or condemn you.
Is it not a marvel beyond all telling how God has remained both truthful and loving? Does it not move you to praise when you think of how He alone could devise this way of salvation in which the truthful threats of His law are fully honored and carried out and yet His mercy triumphs over His judgment? For in Christ Jesus, God’s mercy and His judgment meet together, and they issue forth in the gift of salvation. For you. Truly, the Child is Yahweh saves!
And so the Baptism He commanded puts all of this on you at the start of a brand new year. Each day is a new beginning when you live your life in the joyful confidence of a perfect righteousness and full and sufficient substitute under divine wrath. "Rejoice, rejoice with thanks embrace another year, another day, another moment of grace!" Yahweh has saved you; His name is Jesus.