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.

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