Sermon for New Year’s Day

Jesus’ Circumcision is part of Jesus’ name

Isaiah 55:1-13  +  Galatians 3:23-29  +  Luke 2:21

It’s good for us Christians to celebrate the New Year.  Our God has provided for all our needs during one more whole trip around the sun in 2013, and we will depend on His providence and grace as we make our next trip around the sun in 2014.  But we have something special for which to praise God today on the 8th day of Christmas.  It was on the 8th day of Jesus’ birth that our Lord was circumcised and received His legal name, the name that the angel gave before Mary gave birth, the name Jesus—“The Lord will save.”  It’s recorded for us in one little verse of the Bible, Luke 2:21—the circumcision and the naming of Jesus.  It seems like more of a footnote than a major event, and yet, without this verse, without that event, there is no salvation for you and me.  With that verse, the name of Jesus begins to be fulfilled.  The name of Jesus, “The Lord will save,” is only true if He is circumcised on the 8th day.

You remember where the rite of Jewish circumcision came from, I think.  Genesis chapter 17.  I’ll read a few verses, but I’ll make one change in the NKJV’s translation, because the NKJV misses the importance of it.  Where the NKJV has “descendants,” the Hebrew and the KJV simply had the word “seed.” I’ll explain the importance of that shortly.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “…I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your seed after you. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision as a sign of God’s promise to be Abraham’s God and to give the earth to Abraham’s Seed. Circumcision was also a sign of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, and it was to be a lasting sign of faith in God’s promise for every generation of Abraham’s descendants until the promised Seed Himself, the Christ, would be born and circumcised on the 8th day.

That’s the Holy Spirit’s own interpretation of Genesis 17 as He inspired the Apostle Paul to write in Galatians 3: Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. All the other physical descendants of Abraham were only counted as his descendants through their faith in the Seed, the Christ.  Christ is the Seed of Abraham and the Heir of all the promises God made to him.  The Jews eventually twisted circumcision into a good work by which they thought they were earning God’s favor, but that was never right.  It was always a sign pointing to God’s promise, pointing to the coming Christ who would earn God’s favor for them, and pointing to faith in Christ as the only way for sinners to gain God’s favor.

So when that 8-day-old baby, the Child of Mary, was circumcised, He fulfilled God’s covenant agreement.  He became the legal Heir of Abraham.  No one else, only Jesus could claim the right of the inheritance promised to Abraham. He fulfilled the requirements of the Law and became the legal owner of all things, and the one human being who could boast having God’s favor.

But the Gospel is that you and I, too, who have not kept God’s holy Law and have earned only God’s wrath and disfavor, can boast having God’s favor through faith in the Seed of Abraham, because the Seed of Abraham, on the night in which He was betrayed, took bread and wine and instituted a New Covenant, a New Testament in His blood.  In that New Testament, He bequeathed His inheritance to all who believe in Him.  He bequeathed His righteousness and His holiness.  He bequeathed His life.  He bequeathed His status as Son of God. He bequeathed His Father’s house.

And it all begins by the first shedding of Jesus’ blood on the day of His circumcision.  As we sang in the hymn, “O blessed day when first was poured the blood of our redeeming Lord.”  “A foretaste of His death He feels.” Circumcision symbolizes the passing on of the sinful flesh from father to son.  It symbolizes the cutting away of sin from the heart.  It symbolizes the need for blood to be shed for sins to be forgiven.  But baby Jesus inherited no sin.  Baby Jesus had no sin that needed cutting away from His heart.  Baby Jesus had no sins that needed to be atoned for by the shedding of blood.  Instead, He allowed Himself to be the victim on that day for sinners, for you and me. See again how God has humbled Himself and taken the sinner’s place so that sinners can take the place of “sons of God.”

That’s what St. Paul went on to say in Galatians 3, which you heard in the Epistle: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

By allowing Himself to be circumcised and to endure that first taste of pain and that first shedding of blood on the 8th day of His birth, Jesus began His work of salvation—which is what His name means.  He  finished earning salvation for us by shedding the rest of His blood on the cross.  And now He continues His work of salvation through Holy Baptism.  He has given us a better Sacrament than that of circumcision. Unlike circumcision, Baptism is for all nations and is proclaimed to all nations.  Baptism is for boys and girls, men and women.  It’s for 8-day olds and 80 year olds and 8 minute olds.  Baptism, unlike circumcision requires no pain or bloodshed, because all the pain for our sins has already been endured by Christ, and all the blood that needed shedding has already been shed by Him.  What we’re left with in Baptism is “a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is God’s promise to count you as part of Jesus, as part of the Seed of Abraham.  And all who believe and are baptized will be saved.

There’s Jesus’ name again: The Lord will save.  The Lord Jesus now has saved you by faith, through Baptism in Himself.  It all began on the day of His circumcision.  It began with the shedding of His blood.  Here—here from this altar Jesus will give you some of that same blood of the New Testament—just a few drops.  A few drops of the same blood He shed on the day of His circumcision.  Here He brings it to you again for your salvation.  Surely the Lord will save.  Let us praise the holy name of Jesus!  And let us make two things—the receiving of His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the loving of our neighbor—our first and foremost priorities for this next trip around the sun.  Amen.

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