In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
The Church’s commemoration of Christmas is quite different from the world’s. As you drive around town, tree lawns are already littered with Christmas Trees ready for the woodchipper. Valentine’s Day decorations and candies occupy the same spot that, just a week ago, was filled with ornaments and Christmas cards. But we are only eight days into our twelve days of celebrations! We continue to celebrate that Jesus has come to destroy sin’s ancient curse. And today especially is Jesus’ death seen clearly as we commemorate His Circumcision. While this may not be the topic of polite conversation, the Church, taking her lead from Holy Scripture, bids us consider why the infant Jesus, at only eight days old, begins to shed His holy Blood.
There are two reasons why God established circumcision for the males of Israel. First, God established it as an external mark, a visible symbol of His covenant with His chosen people. God praised Abraham for his faith in Genesis 15, a faith which made him righteous. Now, two chapters later, God says that every male of Israel, whether slave or free—a sign of God’s promise that salvation is for all people—must be circumcised. This outward sign marks those who share the faith of Abraham. This cutting of the flesh was external evidence of the covenant relationship between God and His chosen people.
But there aren’t loopholes. If you are to be a child of God, you must be circumcised. And if you are going to be in the community, you must abide by the covenant between God and man, demonstrated in living by the whole Law of God. St. Paul said of circumcision that “every man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole Law” (Gal. 5:3). Circumcision places one under the entire Law, obligating him to keep it or die. But this is impossible, and Israel knew it, hence the sacrificial system which God established to atone for and cover sin. Though his flesh reminded him of his obligation to keep the whole Law, the sacrifice he offered in the Temple reminded him that he had not kept it, nor could he.
So why does Jesus submit Himself to circumcision? If it is a sign of God’s promise to give His righteousness by means of faith, a sign of His promise to forgive sin, why does Jesus need it? He is sinless, the only person since the Fall to be conceived apart from the will of sinful man, passing on his sin from generation to generation. Jesus submits to the pain and all the implications of circumcision out of love for you. By this action, by allowing Himself to be born to a devout Jewish mother and father who would have their Son circumcised, Jesus showed His willingness, His desire to be born under the Law and to fulfill it in its entirety. “Circumcised on the eighth day, Christ put Himself under the Law to redeem us who were under the Law. And because He has freed us from the Law, we are also delivered us from sin and death; for where there is redemption from the Law, there is also deliverance from sin and death.” (Luther)
At only eight days old, Jesus begins the work of fulfilling every detail of the Law. He is the fulfillment of the law of circumcision because for the first time a boy is bound to the Law and fulfills it! But unlike those who had gone before, He was not subject to the Law since He was the Law’s Lord and Author according to His Divine Nature, and according to His Human Nature, he was conceived without sin by the Holy Spirit. He was already sinless, and therefore not subject to the Law. But He willingly placed Himself under the Law through circumcision for your sake, not His own, so that He might redeem you from the Law’s curse.
This is another reminder of why Christmas matters. Jesus Christ became man to perfectly obey the Law and to shed His Blood, so that by His perfect life all mankind could be served. He was born for your good, and suffered for your good. He came to take upon Himself the burden of the Law as your substitute, because circumcision was a command of God. And as a substitute, He wanted to step into your place under the burden of the Law and to remove the punishment from you forever.
Now, neither circumcision nor the curse of the Law are on your shoulders, because He bore both of them in His flesh. And He has given all of this to you in circumcision’s replacement, Holy Baptism. Now that is the mark, the sign of your salvation. There the Triune Name is placed upon you. You receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. And as that Holy Name is spoken and water is applied to you, you are made an heir of the New Testament, the Testament in the Blood of Christ.
Jesus has lived up to His Name, for He has saved His people from their sins. He has rescued you from the Law’s curse and the Law’s condemnation. There is no better way to ring in the new year than by hearing that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, that He has shed His Blood to save you from your sin. And because you are washed in His Blood, there is nothing to fear in this new year because no matter what it brings, you are a child of God, you are forgiven, and eternity is yours.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).