CIRCUMCISION AND NAME OF JESUS, 1-1-2020
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WISCONSIN
Rev. Michael Larson
Happy New Year and God’s peace be to all of you. At Luther Memorial Chapel we follow what’s called a lectionary – that’s just a fancy word for Bible readings – really a series of readings that direct a pastor and people to what should be heard, preached, and contemplated on a given day.
So today, on New Year’s Day, the church in her wisdom directs us to give some attention to our Lord’s circumcision – eight days after Christmas. To contemplate its significance in the Old Testament and its fulfilment in Christ. Therefore, today, our lectionary gives us the shortest Bible reading that comes along all year. One sentence. One verse. So here it is: “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.”
So what’s with circumcision? Well, recall that in Genesis, chapter 17, God had commanded this sign of the covenant. God said to Abraham: “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised … and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins … He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.”
Therefore, since the days of Abraham, a mark had been cut into the flesh of every Jewish boy. It was a sign to identify him as one belonging to the people of God.
It was a sign to show his obligation to keep the covenant God had given. Circumcision was a sign of obedience to the law. The sign and seal of the relationship between God and His people.
But wait a minute! Doesn’t St. Paul spill a lot of ink (and later blood) teaching and preaching against circumcision? Yes, he does. In fact, the whole book of Galatians can be summed up in this one verse from chapter 6, when he writes “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
So why the change? Did God change His mind on the topic? No, not at all.
You see, just like the sacrificial system had been mandated by God as a type – a picture – of what was to come, all pointing to the sacrifice of Jesus making atonement on the cross, so also the covenant of circumcision was a type – a picture – of what was to come.
Jesus’ circumcision at eight days old is the fulfilment of the O.T. covenant, because for the very first time a boy is bound to the Law and actually fulfills it! This is why He is born for us in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. He is born to speak a loud and clear yes to the will of the Father. That was His namesake, after all. He is named Jesus to do God’s will and to save us from our sins.
Today, our newborn God keeps the Law for us, and when He comes to His circumcision, we see all those promises made to Abraham coming to fulfilment. This baby boy sheds the first drops of His precious blood, under a knife, in anticipation of His cross. For at the cross He is circumcised on our behalf. He is cut off, despised, and rejected. Yet there He is, the Lord of Life, fulfilling the Law and also suffering for our disobedience.
St. Paul helps us understand the connection here between circumcision and baptism when he writes, “In Him [Christ] you also 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.” Hear a little more! “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:11-13).
What’s he getting at here? Well, what circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to us, although baptism is of course far greater. Because your baptism cuts you off from your sin and its penalties. Baptism, the greater circumcision, brings you into Christ’s relationship with the Father so that He sees you as perfectly obedient and holy with the holiness of His Son. So it is that your baptism gives you life: life everlasting and life overflowing.
There isn’t a better way to ring in the new year than by hearing again that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. He comes to the temple of His church again today to bless you with His holy name, and save you by His blood. In the name of Jesus. Amen.