New Year's Eve is always an interesting service for me. It's the lowest attended service of the year - many places have canceled theirs, and if there was a service to cancel here, numerically it would be this. Less than a midweek Advent or Lent service. And selfishly, there would be reason to. All my friends from college gather for a huge shindig in Houston every New Year's Eve -- folks who have scattered will be flying into Houston. I've gone once, had my dad do service here. It was fun - it's a good thing.
And though I will miss my friends tonight, though I will head home after service to an empty house because me bride is working tonight, even though my week off is ended 40 hours earlier than it might have been... I'm glad to be here tonight.
There are just a few folks here who can't imagine closing off the year and starting a new one without celebrating the Lord's Supper. And that, even though it is just a few, is an utter joy - it reminds me what it is that I delight in about being a pastor. No one is going to worry about attendance tonight, no mutters about there being so few (of course there's only a few). No meetings, no hoops to jump through, no wrangling. Just people who desire to come and receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that they may endure whatever years are left to come.
It's a good evening. Here's the sermon.
Circumcision and Name of Jesus – New Year’s Eve, 2010
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
The close of the old year and the start of a new year is a time both for reflection and for rejoicing. The rejoicing one is easy to see – there will be parties a plenty tonight, people watching the ball drop in New York, and even fireworks in some places. This may be one of the most celebrated nights of the year, as people try to ring in the new Year. But, the close of the year is also a time of reflection, of contemplation upon the past year. The news programs and websites have all had their “year in review” sort of specials – reflections on what went well, what didn’t go so well, what tragedies we have seen and even who has died. In our world, reflection and rejoicing are both brought together into sharp focus tonight.
The same holds true in our Gospel lesson, the simplest and shortest Gospel text we have of any reading throughout the Church year – “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.” This simple passage will bring us to both reflection and to rejoicing as well this night, for both are brought into sharp, clear focus here. So, let’s begin.
First, some background. As we are not practicing Jews, nor are we bound to the custom of circumcision as they were, we can forget the background of this text. From the time of Abraham onwards, every male born amongst the children of Abraham was to be circumcised on the 8th day, one week after he is born. This was given to be a sign of the covenant – a reminder that one day one of these little boys being circumcised would be the Messiah. It was a reminder that God would bring deliverance to His people, indeed, to the entire world through this Messiah. And for every male before Christ, it was a reminder that, while they were part of the people of Israel, they themselves were not the Messiah.
Circumcision is an interesting thing – it is something that makes for reflections that are easy to come to, if not comfortable. It is violent, it’s bloody, it’s painful – and it happens to a child. I’ve talked to people who have called circumcision unfair, because what did that poor child do to deserve it? It’s not about fair, it’s about the realities of life in a sinful world. Circumcision is a visceral reminder that we are sinners living in a sinful world, where violent, bloody, painful things can happen at anytime to anyone. Sadly, it’s not even uncommon today for children not yet born to suffer violent and bloody ends. This is the reality of a fallen world. While we may try to sugarcoat sin, especially our sin, pretend that it is no big deal, sin means death and pain and suffering. And we who are sinners simply have this as part and parcel of our lives. This is part of the point of Circumcision – that as we come into this world, we are all born under the condemnation of the Law, and that by rights, by what is truly “fair” we deserve nothing but death and damnation, for in sin our mothers bore us.
Yet, with circumcision, with this promise God gives to Abraham, God points out a more blessed reality to us. Amidst the pain and suffering of this life, God points us to another reality; that a Messiah would come. The pain of circumcision, even the pain of childbirth, they point to sin – but through a birth, through a Child who would be circumcised, who would face all these trials and pains that we see, there would be deliverance. The promise of circumcision was a call to look beyond the pain and suffering that we know in life and to instead look to the Lord for His promised deliverance. It was a cause to rejoice, even in the face of pain and suffering, because it was the promise that God would redeem His people.
This Christmas season, we have seen the fulfillment of that promise. By His birth, Christ Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, Holy, Righteous, Innocent – comes into the world, God become Man in order to fulfill all the promises of salvation made in the Old Testament. We have Immanuel, God with us. We know this, we’ve been singing all the Carols of that joyous night – all the sweet, beautiful, romantic songs that make you want to sigh. On Christmas Eve we have those simple, wondrous thoughts – a week later, reality sets in. We see what it means when our Lord comes down to be God with us. What does this mean? Even though He is without sin, even though He is perfect and holy, He takes our place under the law, suffers what we must suffer. And this is brought into sharp clarity this night as we hear of our Lord’s circumcision. The songs about this night don’t talk about everything being calm; we don’t sing, “no crying He makes” tonight. Tonight we remember the fullness of what it means that Christ Jesus takes His place with us under the law – it means He sheds His blood. This circumcision is simply a foretaste of what is to come on Good Friday – because the Law is not merely about rites and customs. When it boils down to it, the Law is this – the sinner must die. The wages of sin is death. To sin is to abandon, to reject life. And Christ Jesus, though He is without sin, comes to stand with you, to take up the burden of sin for you, He comes to be the Sinner, the One upon whom the sins of the whole world are lain. This is a momentous, awe inspiring thing. So often we can say, “Oh, I don’t deserve this,” when tragedy or misfortune befalls us. Theologically speaking, that’s not true – we deserve worse, for we are sinners. But little Lord Jesus, He didn’t deserve to have His blood shed – and yet, He comes down from heaven and submits, is put under the Law, taking up our burden. This is a momentous thing to reflect upon.
And yet, so as to not keep us simply morose and solemn, right after this depiction of the first shedding of His blood, we are told once again the Lord’s Name – Jesus. Yeshua. This name is the sweetest sentence in all the world – the Name Jesus simply means, “The Lord Saves”. This night, even in the midst of reflection, is a time for true and utter rejoicing, because in the middle of pain and suffering and disappointment that we see in this world, Christ Jesus, your Lord, comes to save, comes to win salvation. Yes, it is awe inspiring to consider what Christ suffers, but it is utterly joyous to remember that He does this, that He suffers this for one reason – He loves you and desires to save you. He comes to be under the Law in order to free you, who were under the Law. He comes to die so that you need not die eternally. He comes to rise again so that you too will rise to New Life. And when Christ comes, when He fulfills the Law – it is fulfilled. None of us men in this room had any need to be circumcised – we did not need to in order to fulfill some Law – our Lord was circumcised for us. His blood was shed in our place. Likewise, because of His death and resurrection, none of us here, man, woman, or child need ever fear death, for even should it come, should we die before the Lord returns, on account of Christ we know that this will be just a temporary thing, and that at His return, at His trumpet blast, we too shall rise to new life, just as He is risen. He has done it all, He has fulfilled it all – the Lord has saved us.
Thus, we are no longer under the Law. We no longer hold to that old covenant. Instead, our Lord gives us a new covenant, a new Testament in His Blood – one that brings us no pain, no suffering, but simply forgiveness and life and salvation. The blood that our Lord shed at His circumcision, that He shed upon the Cross, it is sufficient for salvation, and it has accomplished that goal for you. No more will His blood be shed, instead, it will be given, poured onto your tongue in the mystery of the Supper, where Christ Jesus comes to you to be with you, to make you participate in His death and resurrection, so that you have His salvation now, this moment, this instant. Thus, with rejoicing triumphing over sadness, with forgiveness triumphing over sin, with life triumphing over death, we are called to our Lord’s table this night, to share once again in His blessed communion – so that in the midst of this world full of very real pain and sorrow, the very Real Body and Blood of our Lord might give us salvation, remind us of the Victory we have in Christ, and prepare us rightly to show forth His love in the Year to come. Rejoice, for Christ Jesus has come to save. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +