02. January 2011
Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
First, a brief word on our liturgical calendar. The first Sunday of Christmas was superseded last week by the festival of St. Stephen. Last Wednesday, we continued our Christmas commemoration by celebrating the festival of Holy Innocents, albeit a day late. Today churches normally celebrate the second Sunday of Christmas. Yet, since this congregation does not have services on January 1st, it was fitting for us to transfer yesterday’s feast of the Circumcision to today. Similarly, rather than celebrate Epiphany on its appointed date of the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6, we will be transferring it to next Sunday the 9th. This bumps the feast of Baptism of our Lord to the following Sunday.
If it all sounds confusing, trust me, it is. There were other options but this seemed the most fitting. Because of the this, we will not be studying one of the Christmas Gospels, the presentation of Jesus to Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-40), and two of the Epiphany Gospels, the boy Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:41-52) and the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11). I urge you to read these texts on your own and consider what they reveal about our Lord Jesus, his identity, and his character. Perhaps next year, the calendar will allow us to meditate on these texts.
Today’s feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus might make you squirm a bit. No one wants to hear about the cutting of flesh, especially upon a newborn. We might think it cruel or just incidental that our Lord Jesus submitted himself to the old covenant act. Why should it have a feast day during this holiday season?
It is important for us to recall for this event because it is critical to our salvation. The feast also focuses our thoughts on the season of Christmas in the midst of New Years’ distractions. This festival teaches us that our God and Father sent his son Jesus for us, and shows us how he goes about saving us. Thus, we ought not pass this festival by but rather consider its importance for the life of the Christian and the church.
New Years’ Eve/Day are in stark contrast with Christmas Eve/Day. While both contain family, friends, and festivity, New Years’ lacks the built-in Christian reflection of Christmas. We watch a glowing electric lit ball drop, we break out champagne, and sing a rousing, if mispronounced rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” Where is Jesus? I suspect most New Years’ celebrations even fail to thank God for the providential year of life that he gave us, nor do we ask that he provide for us in the year to come. Most of the revelry of New Years’ would be classified as the vices of gluttony and drunkenness. No doubt other and more serious vices join the party outside our circles.
While there’s nothing particularly wrong with our secular liturgy of ball, a toast, and song for New Years’, where is Jesus in all this? One would think that a year gone and a year to come would give us pause to consider at least Christ’s work in us and for us.
His absence seems especially odd considering New Years’ falls on eighth day of Christmas. Our altar is still decked with poinsettias. We still are celebrating the Lord’s Supper in festive Christ’s Mass style. Our festivities in the church will not conclude until Epiphany.
Therein is the wisdom of specially remembering our Lord’s saving acts as we begin a New Year. We continue our Christmas celebration and pause to consider the most important memory of this past year: Jesus saved us and gives us faith to receive this salvation.
Even if we have lost our job, lost loved ones to disease and death, continue to struggle with a secret or besetting sin, or simply suffer under shame or guilt, our Lord Jesus has not forgotten us. He daily rescues us from the clutches of despair and vice.
Even if we look back on the year past and are filled with regret, we hear again the good news. Jesus has the victory. You have nothing to regret for you are God’s child and will enter into paradise on the last day. The cares of this past year are nothing compared to the inexpressible joy of heaven to come.
Have faith! The bonds of the law have been loosed. Its guardianship has been removed. The guilt, shame, or regret for the year past is only your conscience speaking according to the law. It is the the sinner reflecting on their failure to be a good steward of their God given resources of time, skills, or wealth.
Yet, as Paul taught in Galatians, you are now in Christ Jesus and therefore sons of God through faith. All your desires to do better this year come from the accusation of the law. God’s law tells you to shape up, get with it, and stop being a moron. God’s law compels you to make new resolutions to be a better spouse, a better employee, or simply a better person.
There is no power in these resolutions. They are empty words that have no power to be carried out. You know this. Have you ever kept one of your resolutions without fail? I doubt it. I know I’ve been miserable at following any of my goals. Therein lies the problem. What good are resolutions if you can’t keep them? The desire to do better doesn’t accomplish anything. The only thing that works is some accountability scheme. Then you might accomplish the resolution but only with the constant guilt trip from your partner.
So also, there is no power in the laws accusations but misery and death. God demands with the law but the law provides no strength to carry them through. This yields in us only grief and shame. This oppressive guilt or regret is not the Scriptures’ picture of the Christian life. We’ve been freed from the burden of this law, always accusing us of not being good enough. We’ve been freed by the Gospel to live at peace with God and with man.
This is not license to be a lazy or inattentive to those around us. Quite the opposite, the faithful Christian lives his life to the best of his God-given ability. The Holy Spirit is living and active, empowering good works of love and charity for family and neighbor. He has the power to live for God and neighbor. It has been given as a gift.
That’s not to say we don’t fail at living according to God. Our faith finds it power not by telling us what good works we must do. Our lives of faith are empowered by forgiveness. Forgiveness gives us the joy to go about our work not in fear but in freedom. We can stretch out our necks for those in need, not overly concerned for our own welfare. We love all without abandon. We know that God will provide just as he has provided this last year. Where we stumble, he forgives us. We need not fear failure or risk for the sake of His word.
Have faith! Trust in the Lord. You are all sons of God, freed from the guardianship of the law. How? For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. We have been joined inseparably to Jesus in the waters of the font. The imprisonment of our guilty conscience was broken in the forgiveness of that saving flood. God the Father views us just as his son Jesus, holy and righteous, without spot or blemish. We are wholly forgiven through this sign of God’s new covenant. What then of the old covenant? What of circumcision?
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.
The old covenant was marked on every male at eight days. The Lord exacted a painful requirement of every man or boy in circumcision. There can be no doubt who are heirs according to promise. There is no doubt who are Abraham’s offspring. There can be no doubt as to how the promised savior would be delivered. This gruesome cut of the knife was God’s way of very clearly indicating how he would go about saving the world. He would do it through the son of the woman. By being circumcised, each male and his family was bound to God. They were marked as those who would receive the salvation promised of old.
So also, our Lord put his name upon his people. When Aaron spoke the Benediction, God delivered the gifts of this naming. He promised to bless them, to protect them, show kindness and grace to them, be favorable to them and give them peace. What truly wonderful gifts, all given because our Lord puts his name on us. He calls us his people, his chosen race, his elect of the nations.
Names are important, so too the name of the Son of God, Jesus. Jesus is literally the Lord saves. Jesus is the promise fulfilled. He is the seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus is the savior, God incarnate saving. This we have heard throughout our Christmas celebrations.
Yet, how does he go about saving us? How does he usher in the new covenant, the new Israel, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female?
This work begins today. Christ our Lord willingly submits to the law and its ordinance of circumcision. Did he need to be marked as one of God’s children? Certainly not. He was conceived of the very Holy Spirit. Divine sonship is de facto for Jesus. Did he need to be reminded of the promised savior? No, for he is both the savior of the seed line and the Word of promise in the flesh. Why subject himself to circumcision?
Blood was shed. Christ’s own nine-month-plus-eight-day-old blood was already being shed for your salvation. Here, only droplets fell. At the cross, blood and water will pour out from his side.
His flesh was sacrificed for the redemption of the world. Here, only the foreskin. At the cross, head to toe. Its gruesome stuff, to be sure. Still, the sacrifice, the blood, and the pain of circumcision pale in comparison to the misery that Christ will suffer for us on Calvary. What is begun today will be finished at the place of the skull.
In Abraham’s circumcision, his sons were joined to God in the covenant of promise. They were made heirs and granted faith to trust in the son and savior to come. The sacrifice of blood and foreskin solidified the covenant and was pleasing to God.
In Jesus’ circumcision, Christ is distanced from the Father. He needs no circumcision covenant as he is the originator of the covenant. His blood and sacrifice of flesh is the beginning of his complete rejection by the Father. Despite his perfect obedience, Christ will be crucified outside the city gates with criminals. His circumcision will culminate in his crucifixion for you.
This giving up of blood and flesh makes a new covenant. The death of the Son of God completely fulfills the obligation of the Law. No more sacrifices, no more bloodletting, and certainly no more foreskins needed. Christ has assumed in his own flesh and blood the requirements of the law on our behalf. He was circumcised in order that we would receive a better circumcision, now of the heart, for both male and female.
Paul confesses this truth in his letter to the Galatians. Circumcision has been completed in Christ, who now gives us a new and better covenant in Holy Baptism. In Baptism we receive his obedience. His blood washes over us, cleansing us. In Baptism, we are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. In Holy Baptism, Jesus saves us from our sin, freeing us to live as children of God.
Holy Baptism doesn’t just have the sign of the covenant, like circumcision for the old. Added to the sign of water is the holy name of Jesus. Just as Aaron spoke with a threefold blessing upon the people, now Jesus’ name is placed upon us. Jesus instructed his disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observed all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).
Names are important. In baptism, each of us was marked as one of God’s children. Thereby we receive all the benefits of our Lord’s death and resurrection. In baptism, the old body of sin is put to death and the new self of holy living is brought to life. This is effective not because of our commitment or desire but entirely because God chose us and marked us with his name.
His name shall be called Jesus for he will save his people from their sin. Those were the words of the angel to Mary and Joseph. Those words are spoken to us too. Christ has circumcised our heart, placed his name upon us, and thereby made us brothers and sisters, heirs according to his blood, the promise fulfulled.
As we enter this new year, it is far too easy to look back in regret, with guilt, or with shame upon our failures. Your resolutions failed and will fail again. Yet, we need not fear! Jesus means YHWH saves. This work was begun in his circumcision and reached its final result in your baptism. Your are saved. The guardianship of the law is over and you are forgiven and free.
Enter into the year to come guilt-free, trusting in the Lord for all you need, daily repenting and trusting in your baptism. If the world gets you down or attacks you, make the sign of the cross and remember that the holy name of the Trinity that was placed upon you. Remember your baptism with water and word when you wake and when you sleep. God will not let one of his children see corruption. Never fear but have faith! Trust in the Lord. Jesus saves. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +