January 1, 2012
TEXT: Numbers 6:22-27/Psalm 8/Galatians 3:23-29/Luke 2:21
THE RETURN TO INNOCENCE
Vicar Alex Post

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

The music video for the song “Return to Innocence” begins with an old man, who lies down on the ground and dies. The rest of the video is filmed in reverse motion. The fruit which the old man picked is returned to the tree; the feathers that were plucked return to the hen; a fallen tree becomes upright again; the bread that was broken returns to one loaf; time marches backwards as the man becomes younger and younger. The man carries his wife backwards out of his house on their wedding day; he falls in love for the first time; he works the fields as a young child, and, finally, the video ends with a pastor pouring water on his head when he was a little baby.

This world sings to us that returning to ourselves is the return to innocence. Be yourself. Follow your own way. Believe in your destiny. But God has a different kind of innocence in mind for you. You cannot find innocence in yourself. You were born with a dirty, sinful infection, and you need salvation from outside of yourself.

January 1, 2012
TEXT: Numbers 6:22-27/Psalm 8/Galatians 3:23-29/Luke 2:21
THE RETURN TO INNOCENCE
Vicar Alex Post

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

The music video for the song “Return to Innocence” begins with an old man, who lies down on the ground and dies. The rest of the video is filmed in reverse motion. The fruit which the old man picked is returned to the tree; the feathers that were plucked return to the hen; a fallen tree becomes upright again; the bread that was broken returns to one loaf; time marches backwards as the man becomes younger and younger. The man carries his wife backwards out of his house on their wedding day; he falls in love for the first time; he works the fields as a young child, and, finally, the video ends with a pastor pouring water on his head when he was a little baby.

This world sings to us that returning to ourselves is the return to innocence. Be yourself. Follow your own way. Believe in your destiny. But God has a different kind of innocence in mind for you. You cannot find innocence in yourself. You were born with a dirty, sinful infection, and you need salvation from outside of yourself.


On this New Year’s Day, we celebrate the Name and the Circumcision of Jesus Christ. He was only eight days old when He was circumcised. From the time that God blessed Abraham and made a covenant with him all the way to Jesus, male babies were circumcised on the eighth day to show God’s covenantal faithfulness toward His people (Gen. 17:9-14).

The order of things is important here: first, God promised to make Abram’s name great and to bless all the families of the earth through him (12:1-3). Then, God promised Abram offspring as the stars in the heaven, and Abraham believed in the LORD by faith (15:5-6). Finally, God made a covenant of circumcision in which all male children were to be circumcised on the eighth day (17:11-12). So Abraham was not made right with God by being circumcised, but through God’s gracious promise received in faith. (Hab. 2:4)

This circumcision ceremony was accompanied by the naming of the child (Lk. 1:59, 2:21). Baptism also involves the naming of a child. Some Christians call Baptism “christening,” and this refers to the naming of the person being baptized. The naming is called “christening” because the Name of Christ is placed upon all who are baptized.

This morning, Ella received her name and she was “christened” by the washing of water and the Holy Spirit. God’s Name is an active Name. His Name does what it says. The angel told Mary, “You shall call His name ‘Jesus,’ because He will save His people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21) “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “The LORD saves.”

The Lord saves us, not through Joshua’s bloody victories over heathen armies in the land of Canaan, but by the bloody death of the God-man named Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ blood was first shed in the circumcising, or cutting off, of the foreskin. He would later be cut off from the land of the living (Is. 53:8) in the final shedding of His blood on the cross for our salvation. Jesus’ active salvation for us by His death means that our sin is cut off and forgiven.

The death of Jesus Christ, the Anointed Savior, on the cross, was a one-time death for the sake of all people (Heb. 9:12). But the gifts of Jesus’ salvation are an every day, all-the-time, lifelong action. The Name of Jesus is our Name, our identity, and our life.

And what do we do with this Name of Jesus? Well, since our sinful flesh still clings to us until we die, we misuse it. We forget to pray in our Father’s Name, even though He has promised to hear us. We neglect worship in God’s Name because other things seem more important. We say “Oh, my god” as a casual expression of surprise instead of using God’s holy Name in prayer and worship. We even indulge the sinful flesh, attempting to reattach something that God has graciously cut off for us, by gossip and envy, pride and sexual immorality, despair and anger.

We desperately need a new birth from above. We need a means of returning to the innocence that Jesus Christ has purchased for us with His blood and His Name. We need a New Year’s resolution from someone outside of us, a covenant that is kept, a promise that endures, a Name from above that can truly save us, unlike the world’s advice: to believe in ourselves.

That is the reason for the Christmas season. Jesus Christ became flesh as a tiny human baby in His mother’s womb so that He could cut off our sins for us and restore our innocence. The return to innocence is accomplished in the return to our Baptism, where God made us His children, just as Ella is now a child of Jesus through her Baptism this morning.

The naming ceremony of the angel Gabriel proved the saving action of God for His people: “… you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Lk. 1:31) Do not be tricked by the made-up wisdom of this wicked world. The name “Jesus” was given before he, not it, was conceived in the womb. Jesus was not just a group of cells, or a “product of conception,” nor is any human baby in his or her mother’s womb.

A baby who is conceived is a living miracle of God’s creation! And this baby, this one named Jesus Christ, who was circumcised for us on the eighth day, is the firstborn of all Creation (Col. 1:15)! He makes each of us into a new creation when we are baptized into His death (Rm. 6:3-5). That is why He came.

Jesus’ Name is still a saving Name for us today. We prayed this morning for “the true circumcision of the Spirit that our hearts may be made pure from all sins.” This circumcision of the Spirit flows from the cross, where the one named Jesus Christ saved us and cut us off from our sins, restoring our innocence.

Behold the wonderful promises that God gives through Baptism into His Name! “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:11-15) 

 You are cut off from sin, the flesh, and the devil. You are dead to sin and alive in Jesus! Forgiveness and new life are yours by faith in Jesus! You have been raised with Christ and are united with Him through Baptism. You are all sons and daughters of God, through faith! Jesus has returned you to innocence by the washing of rebirth in Holy Baptism. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:26-27)

Having put on Christ means that Christ envelopes you and defines you – not just your appearance but your very existence! You are a Christian not by birth but by rebirth; you are sons and daughters of God by God’s grace through faith. This promise is for all people who believe in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rm. 2:25-29). In fact, “we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil. 3:3)

You bear the name of Jesus Christ, and His Name is still an active, giving, blessing Name. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Look at all the ways God blesses you with His Name!

The Divine Service always begins “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” God is present, because of Jesus’ promise: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:20) When Christians gather together to receive Absolution, the Word of God, and the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper, that is the return to innocence: innocence of the fresh, new creation that God causes in us by His grace.

See how Jesus promises to hear us when we pray in His Name: “Truly, truly I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give to you.” (Jn. 16:23) Prayer in Jesus’ Name is the cry of faith, like an innocent little child asks her father. That is the return to innocence.

The Divine Service concludes with the three-part Benediction that the Lord gave to Moses for Aaron and his sons to speak to the Israelites. The three parts of this blessing show God’s Triune Name in the Old Testament. See who does each of these things: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” God’s promise is always where His Name is. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Nu. 6:22-27)

We begin this New Year, 2012, the same way we begin and end every year – in the Name of Jesus. Jesus is here for you this New Year, with His Name and with His promises, with forgiveness and peace. He is here to cut off your sins and temptations, and He is here to return your innocence by the shedding of His blood and by the washing of new birth in water and the Spirit.

“Whatever you do” in this New Year, “in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col. 3:17) Jesus will hear your prayers. He will keep you, guard and protect you, bless you, make His face shine with light from heaven upon you; He will show favor to you, lift His face toward you, and give you the peace that passes all understanding. His name is Jesus, and He saves you from your sins. Happy New Year!

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.


GENERAL PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
Almighty and eternal God, worthy to be held in reverence by all the children of men, we give You humble and hearty thanks for the innumerable blessings which without any merit or worthiness on our part You have bestowed on us.

We praise You especially that You have preserved for us Your saving Word and the holy sacraments. And we implore You, O Lord, to grant and preserve to Your holy Church throughout the world purity of doctrine and faithful pastors to preach Your Word with power. Help all who hear the Word rightly to understand and truly to believe it. Send laborers into Your harvest, and open the door of faith to those who do not know You. In mercy remember the enemies of Your Church, and grant them repentance to life. Protect and defend Your Church in all tribulation and danger. Strengthen us and all fellow Christians to set our hope fully on the grace revealed in Christ, and help us to fight the good fight of faith that in the end we may receive the salvation of our souls.

Bestow Your grace on all nations of the earth. Bless especially our country and its inhabitants and all who are in authority. Let Your glory dwell in our land that mercy and truth, righteousness and peace may everywhere abound. We commend to You the care of all our schools and ask You to grant that our children may grow in useful knowledge and Christian virtue and bring forth wholesome fruits of life.

Graciously defend us from all calamity by fire and water, from war and pestilence, from scarcity and famine, and from every other evil. Protect and prosper everyone in his rightful calling, and let all useful arts flourish among us. Be the God and Father of the widow and the fatherless, the helper of the sick and needy, and the comforter of the forsaken and distressed.

Accept, we implore You, our bodies and souls, our hearts and minds, our talents and powers, together with the offerings we bring before You, for Your praise and service.

Grant Your Holy Spirit to those who come to the Lord's Table today that they may receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in sincere repentance and firm faith and to their abundant blessing.

As we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, help us by true faith and a godly life to prepare for the world to come, doing the work You have given us to do while it is day, before the night comes when no one can work. And when our last hour comes, support us by Your power, and receive us into Your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a