Thursday, January 1, 2015
Homily for The Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Our Lord
Luke 2:21; Galatians 3:23-29; Numbers 6:22-27
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Will you be making any New Year’s resolutions this year? The reason we make resolutions is that it is helpful for us to state a goal, even to put it down in writing, in order to inspire us to work towards attaining that goal. In some respects, the Law of God is like that. St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Galatians: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the Law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the Law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” St. Paul says that the Law, like a New Year’s resolution, was a guardian serving to protect us from falling away until our goal could be reached – the coming of Christ and His fulfilling of the Law in our place, which we receive by faith.
Now, let us apply Paul’s teaching to the subject of this evening’s Gospel, the Circumcision and Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. First and foremost, circumcision was a gift of God’s grace. The LORD gave it as a sign and seal of His covenant promise to bless Abraham with an heir from his own flesh whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and as the grains of sand on the seashore. The LORD promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s heir. The LORD’s promise was good and true of its own, but in His grace and mercy, the LORD provided Abraham a sign of His promise in circumcision. St. Paul puts it this way in his Epistle to the Romans: “[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.” Now, as circumcision gets, shall we say, right to the point of procreation, Abraham, and all of his male progeny, would be physically and visibly reminded of God’s promise each and every day of their lives. However, there was also a command of the Law attached to circumcision. Every male in Abraham’s tribe was to be circumcised, and every male child born, going forth, was to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth as a sign of the covenant the LORD had made with Abraham. And so, even though the covenant was truly one-sided – it was God’s promise to Abraham – the LORD gave Abraham something to receive, a sign, so that men would have a reminder, a guardian, and even a goal, to help them to trust and to believe in the LORD’s promise until they attained it in full.
Thus, on the eighth day after His birth, Jesus was circumcised in accordance with the Law. Though He did not require the sign of the promise, for He was the fulfillment of the promise, He submitted to circumcision to fulfill the mandate of the Law for you. And, as was the custom, He received His Name, the name that the Archangel Gabriel had given His mother Mary at the Annunciation, Jesus, which means, “God saves.” Jesus was incarnate and was born as the fulfillment of the LORD’s covenant promise to Abraham that an heir from his own flesh would be blessed and would be a blessing to the nations. Jesus is the true and promised Son of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Son of David, the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise and the blessing of God in whom all people of all times and all places have been blessed by God.
Since the Law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Christians no longer circumcise in order to fulfill the mandate of the Law. Still, as Jesus taught, the Law has not passed away, but it has been fulfilled. As a result, the Law has been transformed. No longer is circumcision of the flesh, but circumcision is of the heart, as St. Paul testifies: “Circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The circumcision of the heart is effected by Holy Baptism. How is that you ask? Your baptism was not a matter of the Law, but of the Gospel. In other words, you were not baptized in order to fulfill the mandate of the Law, but you were baptized into Jesus who has fulfilled the Law for you. The sign of circumcision served as a guardian until the fulfillment of the Law came in Jesus. Jesus submitted to both circumcision and baptism, though He needed neither, for you, in fulfillment of the Law’s demands upon you. And, more than that, He fulfilled the Law that you might receive these powerful signs of God’s gracious covenant promise fulfilled as a free and perfect gift, no strings attached.
As the Law mandated that newborn males be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, so has it been the custom in the Christian Church to baptize newborn children shortly after birth. Even though the Law has been fulfilled in Jesus, Christian parents should desire for their children to receive the gracious blessing of Holy Baptism as soon as possible and should not put it off any longer than is absolutely necessary. And, for those sects who maintain that infants and young children should not be baptized until they can make a testimony or confession of their faith in their own words, they should rather hearken to the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures which proclaim that faith is simply trust, not a rational cognition or articulation of belief. Indeed, Abraham believed and trusted in the Word of the LORD and was credited with righteousness before receiving the sign of circumcision. Then circumcision was given as a sign, not of Abraham’s obedience and faith, but of God’s promise. Likewise, once the promise and Law was fulfilled in Jesus, the Word of God in and through Holy Baptism bestows the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ, even as it creates faith in the hearts of infants who receive its blessing.
As Paul proclaims, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” To “put on Christ” is to put on His righteousness, like a garment, which covers your nakedness, guilt, and sin. After our First Parent’s sin in the Garden, the LORD clothed them in garments of animal skins, having shed their innocent blood to cover the iniquity of Adam and Eve. Likewise, God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision to mark His promise, in the shedding of blood, that He would keep His Word and provide an heir for Abraham who would be blessed to be a blessing to all nations. And, on the eighth day after His birth, Jesus’ innocent blood was shed as He received in His flesh the sign of circumcision, fulfilling it for all people of all times and all places. And, the Name was given to Him, Jesus, which means, “God saves.” For, this initial shedding of His innocent blood was but a necessary precursor to the blood He would shed and the life He would lay down willingly for you on the cross. So it is that we are baptized into Jesus and His fulfillment of circumcision, baptism, and, indeed, all of the Law of God for us by dying our death upon the cross, so that we may receive God’s salvation in and through Him. Truly, in and through our baptism into Jesus, we “are all sons of God, through faith.” Likewise, we “are Abraham’s offspring [and] heirs according to promise.”
And so, as we begin this New Year, another year of God’s abundant grace and mercy, whether you make resolutions or not, let us remember daily the precious gift we have received from God in Christ Jesus, and let us return to our baptisms daily in humble repentance and faith and trust. And, from the abundance of His grace which we have received in Jesus, let us live in our liberty and freely give as we have freely received, proclaiming to all, in word and in deed, that the Law is fulfilled in Jesus and glorifying His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.