The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, "Hail favored one, the Lord is with you." "You will conceive and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus." Our beloved Christmas story begins with these astonishing words to young Mary. Simple, humble ones listen to God's words and say "Yes, Lord. I will be your servant, yes lord, I will trust in you."
Joseph, betrothed and faithful to Mary, was also given a message from an angel saying, "Do not fear to take Mary your wife, she shall bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus." Gentle Joseph said, "Yes I will stay with Mary. I will protect and provide for her and the child." He trusted in these words from God.
And who were the first to be given the full news of this tremendous event soon to take place? It was the lowly shepherds out in the field tending their sheep. An angel said to them, "Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord." Then the heavens broke loose praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest."
Without hesitating the shepherds quickly made their way to Bethlehem to see for themselves this amazing thing which the Lord had made known to them. And they were the first to see the little baby Jesus with the adoring parents Mary and Joseph. And these weary, dusty shepherds were the first to proclaim the news to others, "For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” It truly is an incredible story, Mary and Joseph opened their hearts to God to give birth to the long awaited Savior. A few shepherds came to see then shouted out the great news to the world and history was changed forever.
And so, in our Gospel passage this Christmas story comes to an end. The angels return to heaven, the shepherds return to their fields. According to Jewish law, eight days after birth the baby was circumcised and he was named Jesus. The rite of circumcision was routinely performed upon infants of eight days, in part, serving to ward off evil spirits, but more importantly it served as a "sign" of God's covenant with Israel. At the same time the infant was named.
It was a joyous occasion celebrated with blessing and a festive meal as families and friends came together to witness the naming and claiming of this child before God.
This feast day today commemorates The Holy Name of our Lord. Previous Prayer Books called it the Feast of Circumcision so now the two are combined into one remembering the claiming and naming of our Lord.
In our baptism we too are named and claimed--named as we are presented to receive the sacrament of Baptism, and claimed as Christ's own forever as our foreheads are marked with the sign of the cross.
In the Bible, a name is connected to the identity of a person. Twice in the Luke story an angel says the baby shall be called Jesus, which means, "God saves." In the book of Matthew is to be named Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. In John's Gospel, Jesus identified and named himself saying, "I am Bread, I am Light, I am the Way, the Truth and I am Life."
If you really pay attention to the lyrics in the hymns this morning you will see many references to the identity of Jesus and various titles bestowed upon him, i.e., Christ the King, King of Kings, God the Savior, Christ born for our salvation and At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. We won't be singing the Alleluia Chorus this morning, I'm sure you're relieved to hear that, but in that magnificent score are the titles of the longed for Messiah, from the book of Isaiah--Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In Jesus then, we are saved and assured that God/Jesus is with us.
Our creed says, "for us and for our salvation he/Jesus came down from heaven." How does that impact us now, in our day to day lives? Do you rely on that promise of God's presence with us?
Have you experienced Jesus rescuing you, saving, delivering you from a harmful path? Have you ever been guided into a new way or new direction to be nourished, forgiven and renewed? Have you known God to be with you without a doubt? Or do you often feel abandoned, troubled or alone?
Do you ever wake up at 2:00am (as I often do) and worry and fret endlessly about the well being of a friend or loved one? Or you might lie there thinking about a portion of a sermon that could be improved upon, that sermon which you will deliver the next morning.
What if we sincerely, whole heartedly believed and claimed all that we profess? What if we called on Jesus name and poured out our deepest desires to him in prayer? What if we lived in confidence and peace knowing God in Jesus is with us in our waking and sleeping always and forever?
What if we like Mary, Joseph and the shepherds simply said, “Yes Lord", thereby living into the fullness of God's desire for us? AMEN