The Rev. Paul J Cain
Circumcision and Name of Jesus, 01 January 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
The entire Gospel reading appointed for New Year’s Day, otherwise known as the Circumcision and Name of Jesus is one verse long.
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.
There had been some planning involved in this birth. The angel Gabriel announced His conception to His mother, Mary. “Let it be to me according to your word,” she said. And the firstborn son has been given the name pre-announced by the angel to both Mary and Joseph.
There was other planning, too. As soon as Jesus was born, His mother and her husband needed to make preparation for His circumcision. Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross, and even before that in Gethsemane when He sweat drops of blood in agonized prayer, but His first shedding of blood was at His circumcision. This marked Him under the covenant, the testament God made with Abraham.
So far, this describes what happened on the day we commemorate today. Now we get to talk about what it means, the answer to the common question, “So what?”
First, note that all this takes place on the eighth day of Jesus’ life, not his eighth birthday. Children are included in God’s family, not merely because their parents are Christians, but because the Lord can, does, and will create faith even in the littlest of little children. John the Baptist believed before birth.
We have evidence nearby in Luke chapter 1: 39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
There is a difference between faith and knowledge. There is also a difference between faith and emotion, even an emotional conversion experience. And if we hold to the Bible’s definition of faith as the God the Holy Spirit’s work within us, believing that even little ones can believe is far easier.
It is as Luther explains in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe…that I cannot believe,” that is, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, St. Paul confesses the Lord’s work in our salvation, our conversion, our Holy Baptism in Titus Chapter 3: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” In other words, Paul is saying, don’t doubt the Lord’s Word or work for you in Jesus by the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism.
Let’s pause for a moment to see how far we’ve come.
The Gospel reading from Luke 2:21 said: 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.
Jesus is eight days old. He has been circumcised according to Genesis 17 and the Covenant of Circumcision the Lord made with Abram when He gave Him the name Abraham. Since “the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians Chapter 4 reveals God’s planning for this day from the foundation of the world.
If we wish to complete the picture of what this day means, The Circumcision and Name of Jesus, we have one other stop in the writings of St. Paul, inspired by the same Holy Spirit. I read from Colossians 2 and 3.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
This is the Word of the Lord.
When boys are born to Christian parents, they may be circumcised, but not because of the Covenant the Lord made with Abraham. Instead, it is appropriate for Christians to baptize them right after birth. And we baptize infant girls for the same reason. Holy Baptism, according to Colossians 2, is “a circumcision made without hands” where we are “buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Holy Baptism is a delivery of the salvation Jesus won on the cross by shedding His blood, blood first shed on the day of His circumcision.
And that brings me to why we call this Day New Year’s Day. January 1 was not always the beginning of the New Year. Under the Romans, March was the first month. And that makes sense if you look at the Roman names of some of our months: October, November, and December were the eighth, ninth, and tenth months for the Roman calendar. When Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire, this day, January 1, had new significance. In 525, Dionysius Exiguus came up with the AD and BC dating systems, which by the year 800 had become widely used. Scholars now believe that he was off by about 4 years, but his Christian dating system is the reason why January 1, 2012 A.D. is New Year’s Day in the year of Our Lord, Anno Domini, 2012.
In Jesus Christ Our Lord, God has made you alive, forgiven, and holy in His Name. That is more than reason enough to declare unto you a Happy New Year! Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.