Circumcision and Name of Jesus – December 31st, 2016 and January 1st, 2017
In the Name of Christ Jesus our Newborn King +
While we are moving into a new year in our calendar, while we have a whole new set of records to record for our taxes, in the reckoning of the Church, January 1st, the 8th day of Christmas, has a different importance. Today [and yes, in the Church, today is already tomorrow because the sun has set] is the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus, one of the high holy days of the year. Today our world celebrates that a new year has come, but today the Church throughout the world celebrates that the world has forever been changed by Jesus’ circumcision.
To understand this, we must start off in the Old Testament. Abram’s faith was flagging. God had promised him that he would be the father of a great nation, of many peoples. And here he is, 99 years old, older than any of you here in this room, and he isn't the father of many nations yet. He has only one child - Ishmael - his ill-gotten son born off of one of his serving girls. Abram knows that this isn’t how it is supposed to be, that his wife, Sarai should be the one who is the mother of his heir, that his heir should be legitimate. Abram's faith was flagging - it was getting awfully late in the day for the Lord to act. If he was going to act, He had better act soon.
When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.' Note what happens. How is Abram's faith bolstered, how is he made strong again? God comes to him, God speaks to him. This is how God always strengthens the failing faith - by His Word. Remember, faith is that which clings to the promises of God, the things that God has told us and we know to be true. But doubt seeps in, and we fear, we become weak, and our faith needs strengthening. God always works through His Word - He speaks and we are restored.
And note what God says. Walk before me blameless that I may make my covenant before you. In a covenant, who is acting, primarily? It’s God. That I may make my covenant. I’ve got plans for you Abram, I have my intentions and designs – I’m acting – don’t act against me. Turn away from your sin, which gums up the plans I have made for you. Remember this - we don’t receive blessings from God because we're good - God isn't some abusive parent in heaven making us jump through hoops to earn His love. But our sin sometimes gets in the way. Let's say you are a teenager, just turned 16 and got your license, and your parents decide to buy you a car. . . yes, very good parents. . . and just before they head out the door to the dealership, they get a phone call from the police. You've been arrested for drunk driving, and are going to loose your license. Are they going to buy the car? Of course not - you wouldn't be able to use it, what good would it be? It will just have to wait. This is the way our sin works in our lives. Our mistakes and sins mess things up. So God comes to Abram and says, 'Don't mess things up, Abram. I'm going to make you the father of nations My way - leave your serving girls alone.'
And God wants Abram to remember that He has a specific plan for him. So God forms a covenant. A covenant was where God pledged Himself to a person or a people, and gave them a sign, a proof, a reminder, an identity which would always point back to the promise. God says to Abram, “you will be the father of many nations, and from your descendants will come the Messiah, the Savior. And here’s how you are going to remember this. You will be circumcised - the foreskin of your penis will be removed, and all your male descendants will have this done on the 8th day until that promise is fulfilled, until the Messiah comes.” And that’s the sign, and a good sign it was - a good constant reminder to Abraham (for God also changes his name later on in the chapter). Whenever Abraham was tempted by Satan to go about getting heirs his own way, to go see another serving girl, God’s sign was there reminding him to trust in the Lord. And that’s what Abraham does. And eventually he has his son Issac with his wife Sarah. Now after Sarah’s death, he remarries and has many more children but God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Issac, and so Abraham and his children are pointed forward to the day when the true child of Abraham, the promised messiah would come.
And at the end of 8 days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the Name given by the Angel before He was conceived in the womb. And the promise is fulfilled. Christ Jesus is born, born a great-great-great-many-greats-grandchild of Abraham. And He is born just like any other Jewish child, and on the 8th day, this day, He is brought forth and circumcised to remember God’s covenant. And for the first time, the blood of God is shed for the sake of His people. Jesus, the Messiah, He needed no reminder of who He was. And yet, He is born as one of us, born under the Law. Circumcision had become a Law, it was recorded by Moses, a requirement for the people of Israel to do. And so, Jesus is born in Israel, and He must be circumcised, His blood must be shed. And it is.
This is what Jesus is all about. God doesn't need to do this for Himself - God could have simply avoided it all. Never took on flesh, never suffered. But God wishes to save us, so there the newborn Jesus sits, crying in pain as His flesh is cut. This is what the incarnation means - that God becomes man, that He shares in all our suffering and burdens. That God willingly takes up pain and hunger - that God willingly lets His blood be shed, lets the life pour out of Him, so that we might have life. And we hear this, we are taught this, by His very Name. The name Jesus, Yeshua, has a very specific meaning. God saves. That’s what Jesus means, literally. God saves. God brings about salvation for His people. And this is how He does it - by becoming Man, and by living under the law, taking all the punishment that is required for our sin in our place. The tiny bit of blood shed as He is circumcised points us forward to the day of His crucifixion, where His blood is shed for us completely, where it pours from his side, not from a precisely placed knife in an operation, but a spear thrust cruelly there.
This God has done for you. But God knows that you are frail, that you struggle with sin daily, that daily your doubts and fears rise up. So He comes to you, just as He came to Abraham. And just as God stilled Abraham’s doubts and fears through His Word, through a sign, so too, God stills your fears through His Word, through a sign. He has given the gift of Baptism. Think on Baptism for a moment. It’s not an active event - most of us were brought forward, brought to the font as infants. And that’s appropriate - just as Abraham didn’t earn God’s promise, so too we don’t earn the gift of Baptism. And what does God do at Baptism - He takes His Word, His Almighty and powerful Word, and attaches it to Water, something visible, something we all can see and touch - and then you are Baptized - that Water comprehended with God’s Word at God’s Command is applied to you. I Baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. God’s own Name is placed upon you, the Holy Spirit takes residence within you. In a concrete and public way - God claimed you, showed the world that you are indeed His child. This is why we are to remember our Baptism daily - because daily Satan will come, daily Satan will stir up doubt and fears - does God really love you? You have the answer, you have the proof - Yes, God loves me - I know, He has Baptized me, He has claimed me as His own at the font and you can’t do anything to change that fact Devil, so begone with you. This is why Luther instructs us that it’s a good habit to wake up in the morning, make the sign of the cross and say the Creed and the Lord’s prayer. Start your day off remembering that you are Baptized, that God’s name has been applied to you, that you have been marked by God for salvation. Don’t forget who you are.
Jesus is indeed the God who saves, who redeems us apart from our own Works. Rather, Jesus takes His life, the Righteousness which He shows by His life and Death and gives it to us by His Word. We simply receive His salvation - we received it at our Baptisms where God poured it upon us freely and richly, and we receive it today in His Supper. He is the One at work for us. He is the One who freely sheds His blood for us. We see today, at His naming and circumcision, not just a new year, but a whole new world, for God is among us, winning us the Salvation which we could not earn. May God the Father who has begotten you of water and the world keep you in your Baptismal faith until life everlasting. Amen.