The following homily was preached at the LCMS International Center chapel this morning by The Rev. John Fale, Interim Co-Director of the Office of International Mission.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived (Luke 2:21).

“I am not chicken, I am Joshua!” my 3 yr old grandson exclaimed defiantly. Joshua has a natural cowlick that is in the center of his head. His parents accentuate the cowlick by wetting his hair and bringing it up to a peak that runs from front to back. So I had been calling him chicken. Finally, on the third day, he had had enough. He wouldn’t stand for it any longer and he responded sharply, “I am not chicken, I am Joshua!”

Joshua John was the name given to him by his parents at his baptism. He knew it. He was confident of it and no one, not even his Papa, would tell him otherwise.

In the Old Testament lesson for this week of the church year, which marks the circumcision of our Lord and the giving of His name, God commanded Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons to bless the children of Israel with what has come to be known as the Aaronic blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Num 6:22-27) With this blessing, God told Moses, the priests put the name of God upon the children of Israel and with His name He promised to bless them.

Jesus—the name chosen by the Father and communicated to Mary and Joseph by Gabriel—because he would save his people from their sin. Jesus was the name the Father placed upon His Son.

Jesus came for one reason—to save people from sin. He came into this world, born of a virgin to save you. Each one is the chief of sinners. It has to be that way, or there is no room for Jesus in the Inn of your soul. Regarding yourself as chief of sinners empties you of your own self-righteousness, so you are prepared to receive this Jesus, who is Immanuel, God wrapped in human flesh, and to receive the gifts He brings: forgiveness, everlasting life, and freedom from the curse of the law.

Jesus. It is the name above all other names, Paul told the Christians at Philippi. It is the name at which every knee will bow.

What a blessing from God that we are privileged to have the name of Jesus placed upon us, with all of the blessings, rights, and benefits, connected to this name.

We receive that name in Baptism, when Satan is cast out and the living Lord abides with us. We continue to receive the name of God as God’s priests today place His name upon His people with His words of the Aaronic blessing, and we are promised, we are guaranteed that through that name we receive the blessing of God through that name..

This is the name that we can call upon in every trouble, in every prayer, in every praise, and in the giving of thanks. What a holy name that has been given to us with many blessings.

Yet, we profane God’s name and sin against the name that was given to us when we use His name in vain: cursing, swearing, lying, and deceiving others. To Luther’s list I would add that we sin against this holy name when we use His name to manipulate others and to get our way, which is so tempting especially as we are involved in the work and the life of the church. The Law of God accuses us, lays open our dark hearts, and exposes our sin against His name. Yet, thanks be to God, the Law also leads us to the mercy of God in the name of Jesus, the One who saves His people.

Thanks be to God that we have this name, which assures us that our sins against His name are forgiven in the blood of Jesus. Because of His mercy and promises, He will not withhold His name from us because He wants to bless us through His name:

This new year, use this wondrous name often!

  • Use the name of Jesus as you pour your heart out in prayer.
  • Use the name of Jesus when you are weak and helpless, that his grace may be sufficient for you.
  • Use the name of Jesus if in this new year you or a love one is call by God to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and this Good Shepherd will comfort you with his rod and staff.
  • Use this name when you feel forsaken and abandoned, and you will hear his voice speak to you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
  • Use the name of Jesus when you face your worst fears, knowing that he will send his angels to watch over you and guard you.
  • Use the name of Jesus when you are tired—tired of your sin, tired of the sin of the world that hurts you, tired of the sin our fellow employees who hurt you, tired of the sin of your family and loved ones who hurt you, tired of the constant battle with Satan, tired from the burden of your own guilt. As you use this name that has been given to you, Jesus tenderly invites you, “come to me, you who are tired and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you for my burden is easy and my load is light.”
  • Use the name of Jesus when you are grateful for all that God has given to you, joining one another in the psalms, hymns, and songs of the church that give him thanks and praise.

Through faith, God gives you the name of Jesus. With His name you receive all the benefits of His perfect life under the Law, all the benefits of His shed blood that covers sin, all the benefits of His resurrection that swallowed up death.

You see, in the name of Jesus, nothing can harm you, nothing can overcome you, and nothing can destroy you.

I teased my grandson with the name of chicken, but he knew better and he was able to confidently rebuke me. This year, I guarantee you that Satan, the Law, and your conscience will taunt you. When you are accused of being nothing but a damned sinner, unworthy of the love of God, nothing but a hypocrite, nothing but a fake, worthy only of death, I want you to remember that you know better. Your name is Christian! When you are accused, you may look Satan, the Law, and your conscience in the eye and reply defiantly with childlike confidence, “Yes, I am a damned sinner. I am unworthy of the love of God. I am a hypocrite and a fake and deserve nothing but death. But what of it? I am also a child of God, blessed with His name. The blood of Christ has taken away all of those things and He has put on me His righteousness! They cannot harm me. He has freed me from you and all those things that seek to hold me captive.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, begin this New Year with that confidence and go forth boldly, living each day joyfully and to the fullest, because God has placed His name upon you.

Amen.