We mark this occasion because Luke tells us it was significant. In keeping with the custom of the time – which continues in the Jewish community today: 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.
The bris, or circumcision, was standard. What was unusual is that Jesus was named not for his father or an ancestor, but according to the instruction of an angelic messenger (Gabriel was specific with Zechariah and Elizabeth too, insisting that their baby was to be named John.) The name Jesus, or Y’shua, carried echoes of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible, who led the people of Israel into the promised land after their years in the wilderness. This Y'shua was to lead all of humankind from the greater wilderness of sin and rebellion into the promised land of eternal life.
And there is more to this feast day than marking that occasion, for the New Testament tells us that the name of Jesus itself carries power. When we utter someone’s name, we invoke their presence and power – and in some very real way, that happens when we proclaim the name of Jesus into situations where he is needed.
Jesus himself told his followers to use his name in prayer: “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John14:14) And in Acts 3, Peter and John cure a lame man simply by saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:6). After this they explain to naysayers, “And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong.“ (Acts 3:16)
There is power in the name of Jesus – the only power we need to wield against the force of evil, against the enemy of human nature. As the ancient hymn recorded in Philippians (also read this Sunday) asserts, “At the name of Jesus, every kneel shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
To some ancient peoples, knowing someone’s name of gave you power over them, access to them. Jesus has freely given us his name and said, “Use it.” We have access to the power that made the universe as we invoke the name of Jesus.
It’s up to us to use that privilege. When I am in crisis, injured or afraid, I instinctively say, “Jesus, be here now.” It’s become a default prayer. The next time you feel up against a challenge, or powerless in some situation, try using the gift given to you as a follower of Christ: the name of Jesus. He comes with it.