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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 circumcised according to the covenant between God and Abraham. Circumcision might seem like an unusual topic to discuss on New Year’s Eve. Nevertheless, circumcision was a new beginning for the Old Testament people of God. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when God commanded 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: it was the means by which God’s gifts of salvation were placed upon the people. It was a mark of God’s favor, a visible Word, a saving work of God. It was also a mark that you belonged to the Lord, that you and your household were heirs of God’s gracious promise. With all of Israel, you could say with certainty, “The Lord is our God, and we are His people.” You could eat 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.
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.
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 its blessings reached beyond the seven days of the old creation into the first day of the new. It was a new birth—a heavenly birth into a new creation. The same is true of Baptism. The apostle Paul wrote: “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 the father to the children.
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 this 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;” not on this day, at least, the day of His circumcision and naming.
This is not a Hallmark holiday. 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. Not only did the Son of God 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 depths of human existence by becoming obedient under His own Law, even suffering and dying under that Law.
The sinless Son of God was treated as a sinner. 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 Jesus shed for our redemption. When He was only eight days old, the Son of God permitted Himself to be wounded, and His blood to be shed, that you would be saved from death and hell. He had no need of circumcision for Himself; He did not need to become obedient to the Law for His own sake. But He has done all of this for you, so that you would belong to Him.
Circumcision pointed forward to Holy Baptism, and you who bear the greater sign of Baptism on your foreheads and on your hearts have your Christmas joy made new. The Law stands fulfilled in Jesus, down to the last pen stroke. All of it, He has kept for you. His circumcision, His perfect obedience, His suffering and death, are yours; and through Holy Baptism, you are His.
The remembrance of the circumcision of Jesus is not a sentimental celebration. There is no glorious angel, no humble shepherds, no pretty manger scene. There is only blood—the blood of Jesus shed for you, shed to perfectly fulfill the law, shed for you and for your salvation. By the grace of God, you drink the blood and eat the body of the One who was pierced on your behalf, a feast in which you receive all that Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose to bring you: the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. 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.