31 December 2007 St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Eve of the Circumcision Greenspring Village, Springfield, VA
and Name of Jesus
“A New Year and a New Life”
Text: Luke 2:21 (Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 3:23-29)
When my son was born, the nurses asked us if we wanted to have him circumcised. It was our decision, to do or not to do. Not so for Mary and Joseph. On the eighth day after His birth, Jesus had to be circumcised, according to the covenant given to Abraham (Genesis 17) and the Law given to Moses (Leviticus 12).
What difference does it make? For my son, not much. But for Jesus – if He had not been circumcised, He could not have been our Saviour! Not that the physical act was that important. It wasn’t. It was the Word and promise of God attached to that act that made it so important. His command that every male child be circumcised on the 8th day after its birth, and His promise that this simple act of faith would bind this child to Him, made it so precious.
And Jesus, to be our Saviour and fulfill His Name, is circumcised. His carefully chosen mother and step-father see to it. For by His birth, Jesus is bound under the Law for us. Not to abolish it, but to fulfill it. Every jot and tittle of it. To do what we are unable to do, and be the sacrifice not for His own sins, but for ours. Had He not, He would have been a sinner and no Saviour. And so this day is an important one, to give thanks not only to our Saviour and His birth and life for us, but also for pious mothers and fathers, who bring their children to God in faith.
And maybe that would be a good New Year’s resolution for you to make this year – to thank your father and mother for all that they have done for you. Or if they are no longer alive here on earth, to thank those parents around you for their care for their children, and to encourage them to bring their children to the Lord in faith.
But though circumcision was an option for us, there was an act that was not – the New Testament circumcision, not of the flesh, but of the heart; the true circumcision of the Spirit (as we prayed earlier), which is Holy Baptism. Like circumcision in the Old Testament, the physical act of baptism isn’t important in itself. It is the Word and promise of God attached to that water that makes it so important. His command to baptize all nations into His Name, and His promise that this simple act of faith would bind all who are so baptized to Him. And with every child (or teen, or adult!) that is baptized, Jesus is still fulfilling His Name, being our Saviour from sin, and giving us the gifts of faith and everlasting life.
And so tonight is a night to remember our baptisms, even as we remember the Circumcision of our Lord. For both find their meaning only in Him. The simple act of circumcision pointing the faith of Old Testament Israel to the promise given to Abraham, to look to the future, that one of his seed would be the Saviour. And in the same way, the simple act of baptism points the faith of the New Testament Church back to the promise of the Saviour fulfilled – a Saviour come to wash away our sin. And yet even more, both these signs not only signify, but do what they signify – by the Word and promise of God, they join us to our Saviour, who joined Himself to us in His birth at Christmas.
Yet not only is Jesus circumcised on the 8th day, He is also given His name, the name the angel revealed to Joseph. And while names today are not so filled with meaning, this one is – Jesus, which means: The Lord our Salvation. He is the fulfillment of circumcision, the one who fills our baptisms with meaning, and the fulfillment of the blessing given to the people of Israel, and still given to us today:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
And when you were baptized into His Name, all these blessings and promises became yours. All that He did is yours, including most importantly, His death and resurrection. For joined to Him, though you will die physically, your physical death will not be that important. For you will also rise to life, as your Saviour rose to life; rising with your body and He rose with His, never to die again.
And so in a world filled with turmoil and strife, filled with sin and death, filled with uncertainty, doubts, and fears . . . The Lord our Salvation gives you peace. For He has come to bless and keep you. He has come and made His face shine upon you. He has come with His grace and forgiveness for you. And so there is peace. The peace of which the angels sang on Christmas night. For we have peace with God in our Saviour; and if peace with God, then peace in our hearts, and peace with each other.
And so as the calendar turns this night to a new year – a new year that will be filled with changes and challenges – one things will not change: The Lord our Salvation. For we have been made already new in Him. With a new that never wears out. Not just a new year, but a new life, to live forever in Him.
And so matter what this New Year brings, that makes this a truly Happy New Year.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.