01. January 2012
Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21
And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21).
Circumcision seems an odd topic for a liturgical festival to begin a new year. It probably makes the men squeamish. And it should. To have flesh cut from one of the most sensitive parts of the male should make everyone uncomfortable. Think: pain, blood, and babies screaming. Or in the case of Abraham and his host, even a ninety-nine year old having his flesh cut. Ouch.
Circumcision is similar to any self-inflicted distinguishing body mark. Men of the Armed Forces get painful tattoos to indicate their unit or force. Girls mark themselves with ear piercings to indicate their femininity. Many such examples exist throughout the world, with nations and tribes marking their bodies to distinguish themselves.
The receiving of these marks is a rite of passage. That is, before the marking they are outsiders, initiates, or questioned. Afterwards, they are insiders, members of the community, and accepted. Circumcision is like that. Only, it is different from almost every other rite of passage of the world. Circumcision was instituted by God and carries with it the promise of God.
When Abram was 99, the LORD appeared and said “I am God Almighty. Live before me and be perfect. And I will make My covenant with you, and I will make you a father of very many people.” With this promise came a new name. No longer was he Abram, that is, high father, but now Abraham, that is, father of many.
The covenant promise was not simply about children. God said to Abraham: I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Gen 17:7-8).
As the reminder of the covenant, every male would bear the mark of circumcision. God said to Abraham, “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendent.”
Abraham of 99, Ishmael of 13, everyone he had bought, and all the men of his household were circumcised. This was the sign of God’s everlasting covenant. If a man is not circumcised, that person must be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.
All men of the household received this mark, whether of Abraham or Gentile. This Law is repeated by Moses in Leviticus 12:2-3: When a woman gives birth and has a boy… on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
Joseph, in keeping with the covenant given to his father Abraham, submitted Him to the Law. So it was at the end of eight days, when [Jesus] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
One has to wonder if Joseph struggled with the command. I doubt it. No hand-wringing, talking about the pain it causes the boy, or how it decreases his risk of transmitting an STD. No, Jesus was a Jew and thus Joseph submitted Him to the Law.
Actually, Jesus is much more than that. He is the Jew, the Promise, the Covenant, and the Offspring. The Canaan of Heaven is His kingdom, His everlasting possession. He is our God. He is the Law, the Law-giver, and the Law fulfiller.
By taking His the mystery of his holy incarnation, Jesus was made man. Jesus, the eternally begotten Son of the Father now has flesh and bone. In Him the fullness of Godhead dwells bodily. What a beautiful mystery! The God who gave the promise, is the promise, and fulfills the promise, in flesh and blood.
St. Luke records a delightful little word for us in the little Gospel appointed for today, ἐπλήσθησαν (eplethesan). The English translation simply says: “at the end of eight days.” A more faithful rendering from the Greek is “when the eight days were full or complete.” Only St. Luke uses the word this way. He also uses it to tell us of the completion of Zechariah’s priestly duties, and the fullness of Elizabeth’s and Mary’s pregnancies.
At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses the same word to express the reality that in His death and resurrection, all the prophecies regarding the judgment of Jerusalem are fulfilled. This little word we translate as “at the end” can mean much more. It means that Jesus is the end, the fullness, and the completion of what comes before.
After these eight days, Jesus begins His work of fulfilling, completing, and ending the old covenant. With drops of blood, He begins His work of shedding His blood for us. With the sacrifice of a small bit of flesh, He begins the work of giving His body for us. In His body and blood, He has instituted a new covenant that will never end.
Jesus is the promised seed of Eve, of Abraham, of Jacob, and of David. The promise is fulfilled. Jesus is the culmination of the nation of Israel. In His flesh, all Israel will be joined together as again as a holy nation, the holy Christian church. The promise is fulfilled. The everlasting covenant given to Abraham and his offspring forever is Jesus. The promise is fulfilled. The land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey, the promised land is here. Heaven is here on earth in the holy Church and there into eternity with saints and angels. The promise is fulfilled.
In Jesus, the condemnation of the Law has ended. The Law that led to sin and death is ended. Jesus has done what neither the Law nor our weak flesh could do. He came in the likeness of our sinful flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh. He fulfilled the Law for you, beginning with circumcision, resisting your temptations, suffering your all weaknesses, and even taking your death for you.
How quickly you would like to return to the old ways! You would like to make our faith and life as Christians into a Law of requirements, saying silly things like: You must be circumcised. You must follow this code of conduct. You must live holy and blameless lives. You must resist and overcome. You must do everything to avoid death. Do these things and you will live. Our world and churches are full of people saying: Nevermind Jesus, you can save yourself.
Repent. The Spirit of life has set you free to be in Christ Jesus. Do not submit again to this yoke of slavery. Do not think you are Christian because you can say the books of the Bible in order. Do not think you are a Christian because you were confirmed in the faith decades ago. Do not think you are a Christian because you have your lucky charm of a Christening. Do not think you are a Christian because you do the right things, even the most pious and righteous acts.
Repent. You are not saved by works of the Law. You are saved by Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law. He has done it for you. He has “saved His people from their sins.” Jesus is your hope. In Christ, you are named Christian. In Jesus, you are God’s people. In Jesus you enter into the promised land. In Jesus you are offspring of God.
St. Paul says: I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3). If you submit yourselves again to the Law, you are cut off from Jesus who fulfilled this Law and have fallen from grace. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).
Jesus subjected Himself to the Law, shed those drops of blood, and even gave of His flesh on your behalf. He has completed the old and has brought in the new and better covenant. This covenant is in His body and blood, given and shed for you.
You used to be captive to the law, imprisoned by sin and death. The law was your guardian, keeping you from utter shame and vice. Now Jesus has come, and with Him, faith in the new promise. You are justified by His flesh and blood. You are in Christ Jesus—Christians saved from your sins by Jesus.
You are sons and daughters of the King, through the new circumcision of the heart, that is, faith. You have received this greater mark, giving you the new name, Christian. You are are marked by Holy Baptism, not with the removal of foreksin, but completely covered by Christ’s flesh. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
This free and precious gift of God is for all people, for all are one in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. God has put His name upon you, His people Israel, and He has blessed you. You are baptized. You are free. You are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. You are marked and named—child of God.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church