Saturday, January 1, 2011

Homily for the Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus


Luke 2:21; Galatians 3:23-29; Number 6:22-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The sun has set and we are gathered here in God’s house to receive forgiveness for our sins and strength for our faith. It is the dawn of a new year, and there is no better way to begin it than in prayerful reception of God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. But it is also the Eighth Day of Christmas, the day our incarnate Lord received the Name that the angel Gabriel told Mary He would be named: Jesus, which means God is salvation. And in conjunction with that Name, our infant priest shed the first drop of His holy, precious blood as He was circumcised according to the Law. This was His morning sacrifice, so to speak, between the crib and the cross; thirty-three years later our Great High Priest would offer the full measure in the evening sacrifice on Good Friday.

Long ago God made a covenant with Abraham that his seed would be the heir of the promise, the Messiah. God sealed that covenant with a sign in Abraham’s flesh, circumcision. Through the outward sign of circumcision, men were brought into the covenant with God and were brought under the Law. Our Lord submitted to circumcision in humble obedience to the Law and to His Father’s will and because it was necessary as a part of man’s redemption from sin and death.

Circumcision is, of course, a cutting off of the flesh. That is clear enough. The question is “Why?” and “Why that particular member?” As to the “Why?” of circumcision, it is because the flesh is sinful and corrupt, even after conversion; it must die and be cut away. As to the “particular member” involved in circumcision, we might wonder “Why not the hands, or the heart, or the tongue?” While those members are indeed corrupt and the instruments of great sin, they are but the symptoms of man’s sin problem. Circumcision gets directly at the root of our problem: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. We come from corrupted seed and the corruption is passed on through our fathers. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. And so to show that it’s the root of the whole matter that’s gone wrong, circumcision. So what needs to be changed is not behavior, but our very selves, our hearts, the core of our very being. Each time you pray “Create in me a clean heart, O God” you are crying out for that of which circumcision is the sign.

But what about the women? Had they no such sign? No, for this was to point to Christ, who would be born of woman, but not of male seed. He would be born indeed, but not from corrupted seed, not born in our sin at all. Born holy, yet fully human, and so not needing circumcision. Free from the curse, free from death itself. And yet, He submitted Himself to be circumcised and to place Himself under the Law to free us who are under the Law by His innocent suffering 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. The eighth day transcends our time which is bound up in endless series of sevens. The eighth day points us to a new day on which the sun never sets, the first day of eternal life. Hebrew boys were brought into this new life through circumcision. Jesus too was circumcised on the eighth day to fulfill that sign for all humanity. After His suffering and death, He rose again on the eighth day, never to die again and the firstfruits of those who die in the Lord. Now, Christians are born again unto eternal life through Holy Baptism which replaces circumcision as a circumcision of the heart made without hands. Thus our fonts are marked with eight sides, signifying that we have died and have been raised with Christ and that even though we die, yet shall we live.

And, as Christ received His Name on this day, so too we have been baptized into that Name that is above every name: Jesus, God is salvation. This is the Name that God has known from before that beginning of time, the Name that is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

As we begin this new year in God’s grace, let us resolve ourselves to live in that Name that is above every Name and to daily return to our baptism’s through repentance and faith in the Name of Jesus who has saved us from our sins through His innocent shed blood.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

[Portions of this homily are borrowed liberally from sermons by Martin Luther and William Weedon]

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