1 January 2012 St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

The Circumcision and Name of Jesus Vienna, VA

 

Jesu Juva

 

His Resolution For You

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

 

[This sermon is one that I preached a couple of years ago in an evening service for New Years Eve. As those services as generally usually not greatly attended, I decided to preach it again for a Sunday service, with some modifications and adjustments.]

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

It is customary at the end of an old year and the start of a new year to look back over the past year and remember all that has happened. The joys and the sorrows, the victories and the challenges, those things that have remained constant and those things that are new. There are always so many things that have changed. . . .

 

But in thinking back, one thing that was the same for us all is our sin. All the shouldas, wouldas, and couldas. How we have fallen short and in how many ways. How we have sinned against and failed our spouses, friends, and neighbors. The many and various ways we have not done all that we should. The thoughts, words, deeds, and desires that have been soiled with sins of anger, hate, lust, greed, and envy. And how we have failed our Lord, and perhaps even taken our relationship with Him for granted.

 

And maybe those things are sticking in your mind, as youve been thinking about the year now past. Its an amazing thing, how our minds work. How easily we forget about the good things that we want to remember, and how easily we remember the bad things we want only to forget! But you see, thats exactly how satan wants it, and so he keeps reminding us of our failures, our shortcomings, our unworthiness. He wants us to remember them all, and so drive us to despair and shame.

 

In response, many will make resolutions. To improve this year. To do better and not fail so much. Thats not bad; admirable even. But it doesnt work. Oh, you may do some things better, but some things worse. Maybe youll start some new good habits, but old bad habits reappear too. And then well have new failures that we cannot even imagine yet! Because no matter how hard you try, no matter what you resolve, your sinful nature will do what sinful nature does: sin.

 

And so it is a great fortune for us that on this first day of a New Year, the Word of God directs our eyes not back to how we have lived this past year, but back to how our Saviour lived for us. And specifically today, back to His work for us in His circumcision. For on this day when most people are thinking about and focusing on their own promises, commitments, and resolutions, the circumcision of our Lord proclaims to us the great promise, commitment, and resolution of our Lord for us. That He would not leave us in our sin, and that we do not have to deal with our sin ourselves, but that we have a Saviour.

 

For that is what circumcision was all about. Back in the Old Testament, when God made a promise to Abraham and told him that the Saviour would be one of his descendants, the Lord gave Abraham a sign of this covenant, this promise: circumcision. Not for them to do something for God, but to remember that God was doing something for them; to remember that God was with them and saving them; and to keep their faith focused not on themselves, but on God. So that every time a male child was born and circumcised on the eighth day, they would remember and celebrate Gods work and Gods promise.

 

And so today, in remembering and celebrating Jesus circumcision, we do the same - we remember and celebrate Gods word and promise fulfilled for us.

 

For in Jesus, Abrahams Seed, our Saviour, has come. And with His circumcision, He is already beginning the work His name proclaims: to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). For not only is Jesus one with us in our flesh (as we celebrated last week), today He becomes one with us under the Law, to fulfill it all perfectly in our place. That what we are unable to do, He will do as our substitute. And the first requirement was His circumcision on the eighth day.

 

This is why the early church fathers would say that with His circumcision, Jesus gives us the downpayment of His blood, and that this is the beginning of His giving of His flesh for us; the beginning of His suffering for us. For the fathers saw what we often neglect to see: that all that Jesus did, He did for us. That His saving work was not limited to the cross and resurrection, but that He took our place in every stage of life - from the moment of conception, through His perfect life, to His innocent death, to being laid in the tomb, to His resurrection and ascension. All He did He did for you, in your place, as your substitute, for your salvation. For the forgiveness of all of your sins and failures - past, present, and future; to give you life and a future of hope; and to set you free.

 

For you see, sin is captivity. Sin is the captivity of satan trying to shape and direct our lives instead of Christ. Sin is satan trying to keep us captive to the past instead of free to look forward to the future Christ has planned for us. Sin is the captivity of fear and doubt instead of the peace of Christ. Sin is the captivity of selfishness instead of the freedom of love.

 

But today, we hear a truth that sets us free. That our Lord, in freedom, made Himself captive, that we who are captive, might be set free. For our Lord has come to set captives free, beginning with His circumcision. And in fulfilling the Law in His perfect life, atoning for sin in His death on the cross, and bursting the bonds of death in His resurrection, we are free and captives no more. And joined to Him, we are defined no longer by the things of this earth, the opinions of others, or the accusations of satan - but defined by our union with Christ. So that, as St. Paul told us today, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

And that is the wonderful reality that is ours in Holy Baptism. For baptism is where you have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection and all that He has done for you. Baptism is where our Lord has put His name upon you, and so blessed you in ways greater than you could ever imagine. It is where He gives you His love, so that you may, in freedom, love others. It is where He gives you His forgiveness, so that you may, in freedom, forgive others. It is where He gives you His life, so that you may, in freedom, live for others.

 

Now will we, therefore, love, forgive, and live for others perfectly this new year that lay before us? No, you know better than that! But better than last year? Maybe. But the freedom that Christ gives you is not only the freedom from sin past, but the freedom from sin future. Or in other words, the freedom to fail. Now, I know, that sounds funny, but its true. Jesus has set you free not for sin but from sin, from its captivity, to live boldly in love. Not fearing failure, but confident in His forgiveness, to live boldly, knowing that when you do fail, when you do sin, when you do fall short, when you do mess up - fear not! For you are in Christ. You have forgiveness in Christ. You are still His child. He is still using you as His blessing to others. He is still working through you, and is with you, doing what we are unable to do. For remember, today is about His promise and work, not yours.

 

And knowing that, the turn of a new year brings not dread or the burden of new resolutions and obligations, but the freedom of Christ and the excitement to see what He is going to work in you and through you this coming year. And He is able to do far more than we ask, think, or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

So as we stand on the threshold of a new year, give thanks to your Saviour for His work and for His never-ending forgiveness. For as He kept His promise and came at Christmas, as He kept His promise and came to you in Holy Baptism, so He now keeps His promise and comes to you in His Body and Blood. The same body and blood born for you, circumcised for you, crucified for you, and resurrected for you, He now gives to you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, that He live in you and you in Him. And so still He is keeping His promise, [to] bless you and keep you . . . [to] make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you . . . [to] lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

Now I dont know if this new year will be a happy one for you or not. But I do know this: it will be a blessed one. For you are His. This year, next year, and forever.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.