Sunday, January 1, 2017
The Feast of the Circumcision & 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.
Genesis chapter two begins with a quaint little scene in which Adam gives names to all the creatures of the earth. Now, one could easily read past this account without a thought as to what meaning it might hold. However, the Feast we celebrate this day is all about the giving of a Name. In the Holy Scriptures, names are given to things that are new, or to people who have experienced some sort of profound change such that they are, effectively, new people. Examples of this include Jacob, Peter, and Paul, each of whom underwent a spiritual transformation in which their lives were changed in such a way that they effectively became new people.
When the LORD made a covenant with Abram, He gave him a new name, and the LORD gave Abram and his descendants the sign of circumcision. Abram became Abraham, the father of nations, and the sign of the LORD’s covenant, circumcision, was given in Abraham’s flesh. Since the covenant promise was for a son from Abraham’s own flesh and for descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens, from which ultimately would come a Savior, the Messiah, the sign of the LORD’s covenant promise was upon the male reproductive organ so that at the conception and birth of every male and female descendant of Abraham the LORD’s covenant promise would be remembered. Every man and boy of Abraham’s tribe was circumcised, and every male child born thereafter was circumcised on the eighth day after birth, in remembrance of the LORD’s covenant promise made to Abraham and his descendants.
In the New Testament, St. Luke records for us the account of the circumcision and naming of John the Baptist. As you will recall, because John’s father Zechariah did not believe the Word of the LORD spoken by His messenger Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son, he was stricken mute as a sign until the child was born, circumcised, and was named John just as the angel had said. And so, on the eighth day after his birth, the child was circumcised and was given the name John. Immediately, Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and his mouth was opened in praise of the LORD who had kept His Word and promise. Accordingly, eight days after His birth, Jesus was circumcised and was given the Name Jesus just as Gabriel had proclaimed to Mary when she conceived the Christ child by the Word and Spirit of the LORD proclaimed by His holy messenger.
Every male child that was circumcised was given a name indicating that something new was present. In the case of men conceived and born in sin, circumcision and the new name were a sign of the LORD’s promised forgiveness in the forthcoming Messiah whom He would send when time was full. However, in the case of Jesus, who had no sin to be forgiven, He was circumcised for your sins and for my sins and for the sins of all humankind, and He was given a particular, holy, and divine Name, Jesus, which means “God saves.” Jesus was circumcised and named for all of us that He might take all of our sin, uncleanness, and guilt upon Himself and die in our place thereby destroying the power of sin and death. And, because He was sinless and righteous, and yet died in our place, God raised Him from death, and in Him raised all humankind from death to life that will never end for those who are born again through faith and trust in Jesus.
Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, His ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, there was no longer any need for the sign of circumcision, which was a sign of a promise yet to be fulfilled, for the covenant promise was fulfilled in Jesus. Now, Holy Baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of God’s covenant promise fulfilled for us in Jesus Christ. Holy Baptism is a far superior sign and Sacrament that actually incorporates the faithful into Jesus so that His death is our death, and His resurrection and ascension is our resurrection and ascension. In truth, Jesus’ eternal life and victory over sin, death, and Satan are ours too through baptism and faith in Him, even as His Sonship with the Father and Kingship over heaven and earth is ours too through baptism and faith in Him. All things are yours through baptism and faith in Christ Jesus your Lord. Your new life and name in Jesus Christ is so important that the Christian Church has symbolically incorporated the number eight into the architecture and furnishing of its sanctuaries. In our humble sanctuary the baptismal font is eight sided as is the pattern in the tile upon which it stands. You may have to use your imagination a bit, but even this contemporary-design pulpit is octagonal, if you were to complete the pattern all the way around. This is no coincidence, for the number eight symbolizes the eternal eighth day of Jesus’ resurrection and new life that never ends into which each of you have been baptized and become a new creation bearing God’s own holy Name.
Thus, today, on this last day of the secular calendar year, and the first day of a new year, we remember and celebrate the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, because He bore our sins in His own flesh and redeemed us from our sin and death. “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.” By the way, this is the shortest Gospel reading in the Church’s lectionary! St. Paul expounds upon the meaning of Jesus’ circumcision and name in his Epistle to the Galatians saying, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” And, Paul further explains that Christians receive the benefit of Jesus’ circumcision and name through Holy Baptism and faith: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Through baptism and faith in Christ, you have been circumcised with a circumcision made without human hands, a circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit that your hearts may be made pure from all sins. Through baptism and faith, Jesus’ circumcision, name, baptism, obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension are also yours. All that the LORD gave to His people of old through covenants and signs and wonders, now He gives to you in His Son Jesus Christ.
However, one of those covenant signs prefiguring Jesus was the blessing the LORD commanded Aaron to bless His people with: “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.” Of course, you know that blessing very well since every divine service and most prayer offices of the Church send you home with this blessing still today. In this Aaronic Benediction [blessing] the LORD sends you out with the blessing of His Name upon you. This blessing bespeaks God’s Word and attitude towards you, that He cares for you and provides for you, that He favors you, and that He is at peace with you, and you with Him, in and through Christ Jesus. These are not just some words spoken for the sake of tradition, but they are the active and performative Word of God proclaimed to you by your pastor in the stead and by the command of the Lord. This blessing is God’s Name bestowed upon you in Jesus Christ. You became a new person in Holy Baptism, literally born again according to the spirit. You were given a new name, God’s Name, marking you as one redeemed in the holy shed blood of Jesus. Therefore, as we begin a new year, we remember and give thanks that our Lord Jesus is making all things new, including ourselves.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.