Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sermon for 1/30/11--Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (LSB 1-year)

Raging Storms

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples really hadn’t been with Jesus all that long. These were simple men, though they were not completely ignorant of what the Old Testament said regarding the promised Messiah. But they found themselves early in their first year of seminary, so to speak, learning what they would need to learn to become pastors. They’d experienced their first lessons while listening to Jesus preach and teach and watching while Jesus performed miraculous acts of healing. But now they were leaving behind the stability of firm ground and familiar territory for solitude with Jesus, at the mercy of the wind and the water. Though they did not know it, their first test was approaching; and it was a tough one. Their pledge to follow Jesus was about to take on new meaning.

Literally, Matthew says, “There came to be a great shaking in the sea.” To simply call this a storm at sea misses completely what is happening. Matthew uses a word that he uses elsewhere to refer to earthquakes. This is not your “garden variety” storm at sea. It is probably safe to say that no one along the Sea of Galilee had ever seen anything like this. This was a storm of monumental proportions, a storm that was not only dangerous but deadly. And there they were with Jesus, right in the middle of it! These disciples were, both literally and figuratively, “in the same boat” with Jesus!

This raises an interesting question. According to His divine nature, Jesus knows all things. He sees everything that happens before it happens. Did He deliberately take His disciples into this dangerous and critical situation? The answer can only be, yes. But why? Why would He purposely expose them to something where one bad move, one way or the other, could be fatal? And, if this is what He did with these disciples, might He not also do the same with us? Perhaps you have been there—not on the Sea of Galilee, but at a place where you were hanging precariously between life and death. And maybe it wasn’t physical danger that you encountered, but rather a trial so severe, so oppressive, that the life of your soul was hanging in the balance. And maybe you have been there but have not fully realized it because of the Lord’s protection.

All of this breathes new life into those petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” doesn’t it? We don’t really know how insecure our hold is on the life of our bodies and souls. When we are face to face with such peril, the way out doesn’t always suddenly appear. Do you remember what the Israelites said to Moses after he had led them out of the bondage of Egypt, and they had spent some time wandering around in the desert? They said to him, “Why have you brought us out into the wilderness that we should perish? We should have remained in Egypt where there was at least food to eat.” Something similar may well have crossed the minds of those disciples as the waves threatened to sink their boat. We have probably addressed our Lord with the same question. ‘Is this what following You brings us to? Is this the best You can do for those from whom You demand nothing less than everything?’

When they awaken Him, Jesus calls the disciples “you of little faith”. If this is about faith, then we must ask ourselves, “What is faith?” You see, faith is more than intellectual assent. It is more than simply knowing that something about God is true. It is even more than repentance, that desire to turn around and bring about certain changes in one’s life. It is unquestioned confidence and trust in Jesus Christ with soul and spirit, will and body. But in the midst of the storm, Jesus was sleeping! How can we trust in Him when He’s sleeping at the time we need Him most? When the fears of His disciples were at their height, and their security was at its lowest point, Jesus was completely without fear; His security in the presence of the Father unquestioned. And that is just the point. That Jesus slept was not a sign of indifference on His part, as His disciples seemed to think. It was, instead, a picture of the hope and peace He would give them. It was the reason for which this fearful event was taking place. All around Him the storm raged away, and He slept as One who had all things in His power. So, too, the storms of life rage all around us. How do we react to them? Do we answer them with the peace and security of Jesus, or with that awful sense of hopelessness and loss?

The presence of Jesus at the very center of our helplessness does not keep the storm from occurring, as we would like, and certainly hope. In fact, it almost seems to provoke it. The presence of Jesus does provoke all the fury the world of unbelief can stir up. Even so, the Savior is neither worried nor alarmed. His profound peace comes to take over the place of their frantic despair. And you know just how this is. Time and again the word of forgiveness you have heard, the receiving of the Savior’s body and blood for the remission of sins, or even the mere image of Jesus suffering and dying for you, has washed over you like a cleansing flood. Only moments earlier, all was black and hopeless, and now everything is bathed in the light of God’s love and grace!

Jesus sometimes allows the situation to become hopeless, at least as we see it. But, we should not fear this; it really is for our eternal good. When all human effort and wisdom have been exhausted, He remains as our shelter against the storms of life. There are times when we must enter that terrible place of bottomless distress, when there is nothing stable to cling to; all that remains is the sure grip of His gracious hand. There are times when human know-how and ingenuity shrinks miserably in the face of sickness or persecution or hatred, and divine help seems far away; it is then that His voice of assurance and peace rings its clearest. Faith does not magically create a world of harmony where wishes suddenly become true. Faith does not show illness, perils, hatred, and violence to have been mere illusions. In a sense, faith makes us even more keenly aware of the pain these things inflict on body and soul. But it is just then that the grace of God turns sweetest. When Jesus says, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” it is no longer a rebuke, but a powerful admonition to trust Jesus, and Him only, and to receive from Him the peace that He would give, because it is still there when the storm rages within us, when everything else in life is breaking apart. The words of the Psalmist become our confession of faith: “They cry out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the reading of books

I recently read an excellent blog post by Pastor Peters on his blog "Pastoral Meanderings".  He writes as many thoughtful things in a day as I write in about a month . . . if I'm lucky.  Anyway, this blog post was about the necessity that pastors be readers of books.  It's an excellent post in an excellent blog, and I recommend both to your reading.

I have a pastor friend here in Illinois who gently mocks me because I have so many books.  I put up with it--in part because I know he reads at least as much as I do, though he now keeps his books in his Kindle since his collection was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina; and also because, despite his mockery, he helped me move 45 boxes of books into my study at church and another 45 boxes of books into Faith's study at the house.  He jokingly says, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."  He says it jokingly, but it has a serious undertone to it because there are people out there who take it very seriously. 

I read quite a bit, and I do so unashamedly.  It's one of the more important things I do, whether it's for recreation--and I do quite a bit of recreational reading, I admit--or for the purpose of writing a sermon or a Bible study, or for my continued theological education, or for my spiritual edification.  It is important that the members of my congregation know how much I care about them, how I love them with Christ's love.  But part of caring for them, part of loving them with Christ's love, is that I actually have some idea what I'm talking about.  If someone comes to me with a problem, it's all very well and good to tell them that Christ loves them and so do I.  It's important that I do so.  But I also want to bring the Word of God to bear on the situation, and it's important that it be the correct Word.

There's an old joke about a man who is trying to discern the will of God, but he can't figure out what to do.  So he pulls out his Bible, closes his eyes, opens the Bible to a random page, and puts his finger down on the page.  He opens his eyes and reads, "And Judas went and hanged himself."  Stunned he says, "That can't be right."  So he repeats the process, opens his eyes and reads, "Now go and do likewise."

If I don't study the Word, if I don't continue to learn as a pastor how to properly distinguish Law and Gospel, if I don't continue to grow theologically, I might as well just close my eyes, open my Bible to a random page, and put my finger down on a random verse.  The congregation in which God has placed me to serve deserves my best service; and that means I'm going to keep reading.

(By the way, the picture attached to this post is from my study.  It's not all my books, but it's a good portion of them.  I just hope the shelves don't fall on me.  It happened to me once in North Dakota.  My skull was fine, but the shell of my laptop computer was cracked.  And the clean-up?  *shudder*)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sermon for 1/23/11—Third Sunday After the Epiphany (LSB 1-year)

Immanuel Revealed in Mercy

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was the One who was to come, Jesus responded by saying, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” This was a laundry list of Old Testament signs that pointed to the promised Messiah. Immanuel would reveal Himself in part through these works of mercy. And here in the Gospel appointed for today, we see Jesus starting to draw check marks next to the items on that list and saying, “Done.” We heard today about two miraculous healing acts. The first person healed was a leper; and the second person healed was the servant of a centurion, who was paralyzed and tormented. Both were healed by the power of the Word of Jesus.

The world would have us ask, “What is it about these people that makes them worthy of Christ’s healing?” St. Luke also records the account of the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and he tells us that the elders of the Jewish community came to Jesus and told Him about the worthiness of the centurion. By the earthly standards of these representatives of the Old Testament faith, this centurion had proved his worthiness by building a synagogue for the Jews. For the Jews to speak well of a Gentile in any way, well, you can be sure that this must have been a good man, worthy of anything the Lord could do for him. But the unnamed centurion looked at himself differently. He said to Jesus, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” And then, showing this was not some sort of false humility, he commented on the nature of authority—that he was under authority, and that there were those under his authority. And if his word was enough to make those under him obey, lowly centurion that he was, surely the Word of Jesus would be that much more powerful to bring to an end the torment afflicting the servant. Jesus praised the centurion’s faith, saying that He hadn’t seen such faith “even in Israel”—that is, even among those who lived in the hope of the promised Messiah.

But what does that mean for us? We’re supposed to be amazed with Jesus by the faith of the leper and this centurion who trust the power of God’s holy Word. But isn’t that exactly what we do? At least the leper and the centurion with their own eyes could see Jesus in the flesh; should it not be so much better for us who live by faith? Should not the miracles be a raging torrent of healing and mercy? ‘Lord, I believe, too. I trust the power of Your Word, too. Why am I still afflicted? Why are my family and friends and co-workers still troubled?’ But those afflictions remain. The trouble persists. Just look in the bulletin this morning. We’ve got our own laundry list: people who are sick in body or mind, people recovering from surgery or who face surgery soon, people who are in danger because of the situation of the world today. Illness, pain, suffering, bullies, unemployment, divorce, even persecution and death—these things continue to befall Christians. Where is the Word from heaven to deliver those who are afflicted by the cares of this world?

We find our answer in the faith of the leper. This man was an outcast from his society, considered ritually unclean because of his disease. If he was bold enough to approach Jesus in spite of his disease, why was he not bold enough to just ask for healing? Instead he says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This leper fully believed that Jesus had the power and authority to cleanse him both physically and spiritually. But he left his healing up to the gracious will of Jesus. It’s as if he is saying, “Lord, You can heal me. But if, in your wisdom, it is better for me to remain diseased, if in my illness you will bestow on me a better grace or a richer blessing than my healing would give, then may Your holy will be done.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is true faith: trusting in the good and gracious will of God, whatever it is that you face, however long you face it. This is not easy—nor did the Lord promise you that your lives would be easy. It is hard to walk the narrow way. It is hard to live by faith. The way of the cross is full of suffering; if it were easy, it would not be the way of the cross. You carry grief and loss with us; that is your lot in this life. You’ve been dealt terrible blows—deadly diseases, crushing difficulties, the loss of parents, the loss of children. But even in the midst of sorrows, God is gracious to you. He does not leave you to bear these burdens alone. He is Immanuel, God with us, revealing Himself through His great mercy. After all, who knows the burdens of the cross better than the One who bore the cross to His death for all people? The Christ bears your burdens with you, suffering with you and, more than that, sustaining you in the midst of your suffering through His own suffering and death .

The gifts of God are His, and He bestows them where He will. Even in the midst of suffering, you know that. Is the sin you were born into so filthy that the waters of Holy Baptism could not wash it away? Certainly not! You have been cleansed like the leper, washed whiter than snow. Have you sinned so much that there is a word of Holy Absolution that is not sufficient for you? By no means! Christ speaks His Word to you, and your soul is healed and made whole. Is there any spiritual hunger so great that the body and blood of Jesus cannot satisfy it? Don’t even think it! The body and blood of Christ you receive in the Holy Supper sustains you in the true faith in both body and soul unto life everlasting.

Let me repeat for you the words of the last stanza of the hymn we just sang:
What God ordains is always good: this truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, for with His arm He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.
No matter what your hardship is, no matter how heavy, no matter how long it lasts, the will of God is always good; for in everything God works for good for those who love him. In the meantime, don’t stop praying for miracles, for God in His mercy hears your prayers, and in His great love He answers them in the way that is best for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sermon for 1/16/11—Second Sunday After Epiphany (LSB 1-year)

“Do Something!”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The weeks after Christmas are often a real downer. The excitement of the holidays is over. We’ve replayed the story of the Christmas miracle in our minds, and it’s a wonderful event. But now that the holiday season is over, where is the next miracle? Or as we might ask today: What have you done for me lately? For us, the season of Christmas has been over for about two weeks—or since Christmas day, if we’re honest with ourselves. But for Mary, the Mother of our Lord, Christmas been over for some thirty years now. Yes, she pondered in her heart all that she had seen and heard. She remembered the strange visit from the angel Gabriel as he announced to her that she would give birth to the Son of God. For thirty years Mary had watched and waited. She had watched as her little boy grew up and matured into manhood. Now He is an adult. Where is the fulfillment of all that the angel had told her concerning her Son? Our text gives us the impression that Mary is anxious, maybe even impatient with her Son at this wedding feast. "They have no wine." While not a direct request, these words surely imply that Jesus should do something about it. Is it not time for Jesus to make it clear that He is the Messiah who has come to fulfill these promises of God?

We’ve all been there. “Jesus? Don’t you see all these hungry children? Do something!” “Jesus? She’s dying of cancer. Do something!” “Jesus? She brought up that same old topic again. Do something!” “Jesus? The weather is bad, and the grain isn’t growing like it should. Do something!” “Jesus? The World Trade Center. Do something!” “Jesus? I’m all alone here. Do something!” We all have the needs which we feel Jesus must meet immediately. Though we pray, “Thy will be done”, it’s all to easy to say to the Lord, “My will be done—what I want, when I want, how I want.”

Jesus responds to Mary—and to us: "What does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come." Mary was concerned about the lack of wine and the embarrassment that it would surely cause for bridal couple. Indeed, Jesus will momentarily provide wine for this wedding feast, but His concern reaches beyond this wedding to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the marriage which will be formed by His death on the cross. That is the hour "which has not yet come." It is for that "hour" that Mary must wait.

But in the meantime, Jesus does something. He tells the servants to fill six stone pots with water. Then He tells them to draw out a sample and take it to the steward of the feast. They do as Jesus says. And the steward is surprised—so surprised, in fact, that he calls the bridegroom in and says to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then that which is inferior; but you have kept the good wine until now." This seems all backwards. The usual practice is to serve the fine wine first. Never was there wine like this wine!

Isn’t this how it always is? God does something . . . but it’s not what we expected, or it’s not according to our timetable. We have our eyes on instant gratification; God has His eyes set on the bigger picture, using the little things to show us the biggest thing, which is the reality that He is the Son of God and the Savior promised to the world.

The miracle in our text is what John calls the "beginning of signs." That is, there would be more. The sick would be healed. The blind would see. The dead would be raised. And finally the One who does these signs will be lifted up on the cross to die and on the third day be raised again. None of the miracles or "signs" as John calls them in his Gospel can be understood apart from Jesus' cross and resurrection. Signs point away from themselves to that which they signify. Jesus' signs point to who He is and the work that He has come to do.

It is not coincidental that Jesus performs His first sign at a wedding feast. Throughout the Bible God describes His relationship with His Church in terms of marriage. In Isaiah God says, "as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so I will rejoice over you." Many of our Lord's parables compare His kingdom to a marriage feast. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5 that the marriage of man and woman is a picture of the love that our Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ Jesus, has for His holy bride, the Church. The Bridegroom came to marry us to Himself. He came to take away our sin and dress us in the wedding gown of His perfect righteousness, so that, as Paul says, "He might present [His bride] to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."

Our Lord has done something. The hour of His glory was Good Friday. There on the cross He suffered and died to divorce us from our sins and make us His for time and eternity. What seemed like the hour of defeat was actually the hour of triumph. The miracle at Cana anticipates the cross where the Messiah pours out His own blood as the new wine of forgiveness, life, and salvation. By that blood He has made us to be His holy bride and called us to the marriage feast of the Lamb. The marriage feast at Cana points to the salvation our Lord won for us by His suffering and death. And from there, the marriage feast at Cana points us to this marriage feast between Jesus and His holy Bride, the Church—this holy marriage feast upon which we will be fed this morning by the blessing and generosity of the Bridegroom Himself.

When you wonder if God is in control, when you question His way of doing things, when you are tempted to scream, “Jesus, DO SOMETHING!”—look to the miracle of Cana; look to the miracle of the cross; look to the miracle of your Baptism; look to this holy Feast—for in these things you will see that God does do something. Indeed, He does everything for His people. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Sermon for 1/9/11--The Baptism of Our Lord/Epiphany 1 (LSB 1-year)

Fulfilling All Righteousness

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why did Jesus have to be baptized? He wasn’t a sinner, and if baptism washes away sins, then why did Jesus submit Himself to baptism by John? It’s a good question, and it is one that Christian churches of other denominations often misuse. For some churches, baptism is kind of a promise that we make to God. For these churches, baptism is what the believer does when they decide they are serious about being a Christian. By the way, that’s why those churches don’t baptize children; after all, babies can’t decide that they want to believe in Jesus. But that’s all wrong. Baptism is not our work; it is God’s work. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River shows us in plain words that Baptism saves us and gives us all of Christ’s perfect righteousness for lost sinners like you and me.

So let’s look at the text. Jesus comes to John to be baptized, and John can hardly believe it. I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? John knows that the purpose of Baptism is the forgiveness of sins. So he asks Jesus why He needs to be baptized. Jesus had no sin of His own. He had no reason to repent. He was perfect and righteous before God the Father in every way. And yet He comes to be baptized like a common sinner.

Jesus’ answer is very instructive for us: Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Notice that little word us. It is fitting, it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness. Who is the us Jesus is talking about? Whose righteousness are we talking about here? Jesus is the Son of God and the perfect image of the Father. His relationship to His Father is complete; His own righteousness doesn’t need fulfilling. So whose righteousness is it?

The answer, of course, is that Jesus is speaking of your righteousness. Christ our Lord comes to earth to take on our sin in Himself so that we might be saved. Saint Paul put it this way: He [that is, ‘the Father’] made Him [that is, ‘Christ’] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This is what John the Baptizer confesses so well when he proclaims, Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

In His Baptism, Jesus Christ became the greatest sinner on earth. He took on the sin of the whole world. He went into the water as the pure and innocent and sinless son of God; and He came up out of the water bearing the sins of the whole world. It was as if all the sins that had been washed away by the baptism which John performed were waiting in the water for Jesus to come in, and those sins then clung to Jesus as He came out. He took on your sin and mine. The rebellion and apathy we all have toward God was laid upon His shoulders in His Baptism. This is the time when Jesus publicly takes on His office as the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

All of that is contained in the little word, us. Jesus says, It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus identifies with us. He is one of us. He takes on our grief and pain and sin. He makes it His own. And by taking that sin upon Himself, He then clothes you with His perfect righteousness and holiness before God. It is all His work. All of that wrapped up in this great treasure we call Holy Baptism. In your baptism, you are linked to Christ. Our Scriptures use language like buried with Christ, clothed with Christ, new creation, and the like. But the bottom line is that because of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and because of your Baptism into Christ, His life and work now becomes yours.

This is why Holy Baptism is the foundation upon which the Christian faith is built. We can truly say with St. Peter that baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hear what St. Peter is saying there. In Baptism we go to God with a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

That is why Jesus says for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Us. Jesus so connects you to Himself that when He fulfills all righteousness by keeping the Law perfectly AND paying the penalty our sin, we reap all of the rewards. Us. Jesus and you go together, linked by water and blood. As our catechism says of Baptism, It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

So if God gives so many great blessings in Baptism, why is it that Baptism is so maligned and ignored and disdained by so many? How many even know the day of their baptism? What is your baptismal anniversary? How is it that there are times when parents make baptism into more of a family event than the beginning of a child’s eternal life in Jesus Christ? Why is it that we think there must be something more?

The answer is that we all want it to be something we do. We all by nature want to make salvation into our work. But Baptism is so very much God’s work that the world finds it offensive. That is why some churches reject the teaching that Baptism saves; others call it an initiation; and still others say that baptism only washes away certain sins, while there are other sins you are responsible for yourself. All of these false teachings lead the sinner away from Christ and His work on the cross, and point the sinner back upon himself and his own works, prayers, or whatever else the spirituality of the day may demand.

This is the miracle of Baptism: Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. Your glory as a Christian is not in your good works. Your boast is in your Baptism into Christ. Your glory is in the Lord. God uses the simplest, most common thing in all of this world to bring about your salvation. He uses water; but not just water. It is water included in God’s command and connected with God’s Word; for when that water with the Word touched your head, you became a child of God and heir of eternal life.

Cling to your baptism. Hold on to it for all everything, and do not let the devil or the world tear you away from God’s grace. God’s Word and work is complete. You are righteous and holy in His sight, for you are baptized. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Sermon for 12/31/10--The Name and Circumcision of Jesus

First Blood

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

On the eighth day after his birth, each male child in Israel was to be given his name. He was also to be circumcised, according to the covenant between God and Abraham, and later confirmed in the Law given through Moses. And so, eight days after His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus was circumcised according to the Law. Eight days after His birth, He took His place under the Law and became obligated to it. Eight days after His birth, He shed His first blood under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law and in bondage to sin. And on this eighth day, He received His name delivered through the angel, “Jesus,” for He is the One who has come in human flesh to save us.

Naming and circumcision might seem like an unusual topic to discuss on the evening we move to a new calendar year. Imagine old Abraham, if you can, who was ninety-nine years old when God commanded that he be circumcised. Had Abraham not believed God, he would have laughed to think that circumcision could possibly have any spiritual meaning or consequence. But, circumcision was an Old Testament Sacrament in much the same way we understand the Sacraments today when we speak of them as means of grace, the means by which God’s gifts of salvation come to us and are applied to us. It was a mark of God’s favor, a visible Word, a saving work of God. It was also a mark of ownership, saying that you belonged to the Lord, that you and your household were under God’s gracious rule and promise. With all of Israel, you could say with certainty, “The Lord is our God, and we are His people.” You could eat the of the Passover feast. You could pray in the temple. You belonged. In circumcision, God named you and claimed you and your household as His own.

Circumcision taught a number of things about God’s salvation. That it took place on the eighth day after a child’s natural birth meant that it’s blessings reached beyond the seven days of the old creation into the first day of the new. It was a new birth, if you will; a heavenly birth into a new creation. The same is true of Baptism in the New Testament. The apostle Paul writes: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” To be in Christ as a baptized believer is to live in the eighth day, the first day of the new creation.

Circumcision also taught the truth of original sin. It taught that sin was handed down in an inherited way through the procreation of children. Therefore, sin is like a genetic disease, passed on certainly and infallibly from one generation to the next, from father to child. Circumcision also taught that covenant with God involved the putting away of our sinful flesh and its desires. It meant a decisive break with sin, a killing of sin in the flesh. Circumcision taught that covenant with God involved suffering and pain, and the shedding of blood. On the eighth day of our Lord’s human life we cannot really sing that verse of the Christmas carol, “But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes”.

This, perhaps, is where the uneasiness some have with this day comes into play. This doesn’t have the ring of the sentimental. The idea of the Lord and King of the universe lowering Himself to this level, submitting to circumcision in His own sinless flesh, can make us uncomfortable. Babies and mangers, shepherds and angels – all of those fixtures of the Christmas season are appealing to us. But, circumcision? It would be better not to talk about that! And yet, this is at the very heart of the work of Jesus, to fulfill God’s Law perfectly as our Substitute, to suffer and to shed His blood and die as the perfect Sacrifice. He is God’s substitute Sacrifice for sinners, God’s Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Not only did the Son of God freely and willingly give up His divine honor and glory for a time, to take on the lowly form of a servant, but He humbled Himself to the very depths of human existence by becoming obedient under His own Law, even to the point of suffering and dying under that Law.

The sinless Son of God was treated as a sinner. In the flesh of Jesus Christ the world was circumcised. As Paul wrote: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons.” This is the first blood of Jesus’ obedience, the first blood shed for our salvation.

And faith rejoices in this. This little Child endured all this for me. My God and my Savior, when He was only eight days old, permitted Himself to be wounded, and His blood to be shed, that I might be saved from death and hell. He did not have to do any of this. He had no need of circumcision for Himself, nor did He need to become obedient to the Law for His own sake. But, He has done all of this for me, that I might be saved from sin and belong to Him.

And with His circumcision comes also His name. He is Jesus, the name given Him by God through the angel: “For He will save His people from their sins.” The name Jesus means “the Lord is salvation.” And so, Jesus is the name which must be preached and praised, for there is no other name, under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved. Jesus is the name which is above every name, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess on the day of His appearing. Jesus is the name of God in human flesh: Immanuel who has come to save us. Jesus is the name in which we are baptized, the name by which we are forgiven, and the name in which we will rise from the dead.

We who bear the greater sign of Holy Baptism on our foreheads and on our hearts, have our Christmas joy made new today, on this day in which we remember our Lord’s name and circumcision. The Law stands fulfilled in Jesus, down to the last mark, and the least stroke of the pen. All of it, He has kept for us. His circumcision, His perfect obedience, His suffering and death, are ours. And we are His.

It is now St. Paul who gives us the appropriate words with which to end. “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond that stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Praise to You, O Christ, for in baptism, the new circumcision, You have marked us with the name of God: In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.