Sermon for the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
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. (Luke 2:21)
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
What a busy night we are having. The waning hours of 2019 are here, and we are gathered in the name and the remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ. Together we have renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways. We have confessed our faith and welcomed new members into the body of Christ in this congregation. We have witnessed the miracle of the washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit.
As we pause at the end of this year to give thanks to God for all He has done to provide for us in 2019 and bring to Him our prayers and petition for the year ahead, we remember the joys and sorrows of 2019. I dare not count the baptisms and confirmations that we have had in the past year, but we have rejoiced often and greatly at God’s work being done around us as God’s grace and new life have been poured out in our midst. However, we must also consider the voices taken from our midst, those who have joined the choir immortal.
Looking back, the young among us can reflect on tedious school days, stressful exams, and joyous vacations. The more advanced in age among us know a different kind of tediousness and exams for which there is little or nothing we can do to prepare for better results. In the midst of it all, the Lord is faithful. It is because of that faithfulness that we look forward with hope. We look to the New Year and the potential that exists in it: new opportunities. One school year will end and another begin, perhaps at another school. Graduations will give way to jobs. Engagements will turn into marriages. Love will blossom into new life.
At the same time, we know that 2020 will have its share of trouble, if the Lord should tarry. But we know who holds tomorrow, therefore we have confidence.
This day of remembering mixed with expectation falls on the eve not only of the New Year but of a more substantial new beginning. We now mark the eighth day since hearing of the glad tidings of great joy announced by angels to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. It was at the completion of one week—on the eighth day following birth—that the sons of Abraham were to be circumcised and received their names. This was in accord with the Word of God spoke to Abraham: This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. (Genesis 17:10–12a)
Like all things contained in the Old Testament, the fulfillment of this sign is found in Christ. On the eighth day after his betrothed gave birth to the Son of God, Joseph had much to reflect on as he carried out the responsibility given to him by God the Father as the guardian of the Son of God in human flesh. As he prepared the flint knife, he had much to contemplate. Circumcision was pleasing to God because it marked the flesh not just of an individual, but of a family to belong to Him. For over a thousand years, descendants of Abraham had been keeping this custom and in doing so preserved the memory of God’s covenant with Abraham that in his offspring all the families of the earth would be blessed.
Generation after generation had carried on the sacrament of circumcision. Every male eight days old was marked in his flesh, and the children that came from his flesh would carry on the promise, the hope, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. All of this Joseph could reflect on as he looked back on this night to a long history traced down from Abraham to him and the child he was to name.
But this circumcision was different from every one that went before or has come after. For Christ’s circumcision is not just in keeping with the law, it fulfills the law. Christ’s circumcision marks Him as one who is under the Law. The Author of the Law submits to its regulation.
What are your New Year’s resolutions? What bad habits do you hope finally to break this year? What pious disciplines are you taking on? Do you hope to exercise more, eat better, perhaps read the Bible from cover to cover? None of these things are bad, but they seem so tiny compared to what was asked this evening of our confirmands, vows that many of you have made at some point:
P Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?
R I do, by the grace of God.
P Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
R I do, by the grace of God.
Well intended resolutions, but thanks be to God our salvation is found not in our pledge, but in His. For with His circumcision Jesus pledges an entire life of faithfulness.
Our confirmation pledges are not unlike the promise made to God in Circumcision. Generation after generation of Hebrew boys had been circumcised and pledged toward living a holy life before God. Generation after generation failed. Christ is circumcised and He does not fail. On Christmas Christ takes His stand in our flesh. Eight days later in His circumcision, He takes our place under the Law. Soon we will celebrate His baptism where He switches places with us, taking on our guilt and giving us His righteousness. This all comes together as Christ’s work of redemption. Mary’s Son is named Jesus, which means the Lord saves, because He will save His people from their sins. He who has taken on our flesh in the womb of Mary now takes up the task for which He came by, for the very first time, shedding His blood, our blood, from His sacred veins.
As the book of Hebrews makes clear: There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). As Joseph takes a knife to perform the work of the Lord assigned to him, perfect human blood falls to the earth for the first time, atoning for all of our short comings. Christ redeems us not by a few hours of suffering on the cross. Many men have been hanged on trees, for much longer. Our Savior redeems us by living a perfect life in our stead and dying in our place. At the cross the pledge of Jesus’ circumcision is paid in full. Jesus is faithful unto the very end. But everything He does He does in your place. Therefore in the cross you behold your death. In baptism it has been given to you, you have died to sin. But at the same time as Jesus has died your death, He also gives you His life. His perfect obedience, including His submission to the covenant of circumcision, is yours.
Today is the day of the greatest Resolution ever made, and it is a resolution that has been kept. The Law is fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect life and obedient death. Nothing shakes His resolution to do the Father’s will, and His perfection is counted to you as righteousness. Jesus has lived up to His Name. He has saved His people from their sins. All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Looking back on Christ’s circumcision and fulfilling of the Law, we are prepared to look ahead not only to the New Year, but to eternity with the utmost confidence. For He who has fulfilled all things will not fail us.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria