It’s always a little “delicate” preaching on circumcision. Specifically, on the Circumcision of Jesus, which comes up on a Sunday about once every Seven years or so. On the one hand, you don’t want to ignore this very important thing. On the other hand, you don’t want people recoiling in horror. I tend to focus more on the naming of Jesus, for better or worse. (Ever since I did a sermon focusing on the circumcision, and faced a roomful of open horrified expressions)
Anyway, all that as prelude to the sermon, preached by me to the people of God at Trinity in Wheatland, WY. After the jump, as usual.
A new year. A time to reflect. Was it a good year? You hope the next is like it. Were you glad to see the end of it? You hope that you never see another like it. What were your resolutions last year? Are they the same ones as this year? New year’s resolutions usually last about a week. Did you manage to keep yours any longer? Will this years resolutions fare any better? No matter what sort of mental review you have of last year, 2011 is over and done with, and you can’t change it. No matter what sort of plans you have for the year ahead, 2012 is here, and you can’t stop it. Of course, when we talk about years, 2011, 2012, we often forget the next part – A.D. – Anno Domini – year of our Lord. That’s what the calendar is – it marks the time since the birth of our Lord. That’s why the new year starts right after Christmas. Another year since our Lord’s birth. Goodbye 2011. Welcome 2012.
Today, the eighth day of Christmas, is the day we celebrate the naming of Jesus. Every Jewish boy, on the eighth day after his birth would be circumcised, and that was when the name was given. It was more than just a custom begun by Abraham, some 2000+ years before. It marked the people as God’s people. It set them apart from all other people on earth. It was the sign of obedience to God’s law. It was the mark that God put on the people who are his. The people that God promised to take care of.
You look at Israel’s history, and you see a lot of suffering. Slavery in Egypt, Oppression by the Philistines, Exile to Babylon. But when they looked at their history they saw, The red sea, the conquest of Canaan, the return from exile, and the rebuilding of the temple. No matter how dark things looked, the people knew that God was with them, and would keep them. He had delivered them in the past, and he would deliver them again. They were his people.
And for a boy, that began with circumcision. To be circumcised was to be placed under the law of Moses. The law, given to Moses on Sinai, that directed Israel to avoid those things that were unclean. To behave in certain ways and do certain things, to abstain from various foods, to live according to the law. That was a covenant that began for all Jews on the eighth day. And Jesus is no different.
On the eighth day, Jesus is taken by his family to be circumcised. He was, as St. Paul says, “born of a woman, born under the law.” That is, the eternal Son of God, willingly placed himself under the law. And now, he was fulfilling the first requirement of the law – circumcision. The day of circumcision was also the day that he was given his name. As the angel said to Joseph, “You will call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” That is what the name y-shua (Jesus) means. It means savior. Jesus will be the savior from sin. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believers ear. At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.
The resolutions we make on New year’s day don’t usually last very long. A fitting tribute to human will power. As Jesus will tell the disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” You can decide to do this or that or the other: Lose weight, quit smoking, stop getting mad when your favorite team blows the big game – AGAIN! But how long do such decisions last? Your flesh has a way of giving into temptation. That’s what it means to be a sinner. You can’t stop it by force of will.
Today, Jesus places himself totally under the law, for you. He makes a commitment to keep the law perfectly on your behalf. That is what Jesus does for you. What matters is not your commitment to Jesus and the law of God, but God’s commitment to you in sending Jesus to keep the law for you. That’s why the Son of God was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To save you.
The true God, creator of all that is, made man, and is placed under the law he gave to Moses, so that he could save you.
Today we remember the first time that Jesus spilled his blood. He was placed under the law, he obeyed the law, and what happened today points us to the cross, where Jesus will spill his blood for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Today, Jesus is counted as one of the people of God, and placed under the law. Later, at his baptism Jesus will be counted as a sinner, in need of repentance. And finally, before Pilate, Jesus will be counted as a criminal, deserving of death.
As Jesus places himself under the law, he is given the name savior. He came to live under the law for you. To bear the curse of the law for you. To die condemned by the law for you. He who was without sin came to be called a sinner, so that you who were without righteousness would be called a child of God.
The law demands total obedience. The law always accuses, because the law demands perfection. But you are a sinner. And sin leads to death.
The last month we heard the cry of John the Baptist – Repent! Today we hear the name of Jesus rings out – Savior! Jesus was placed under the law to save you from the law. Now you been placed under the name of your savior. In Holy baptism you are given the name of Jesus – the sign of the cross made over you, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. You are given a new name. The name of the one who saves you. Christian. You are removed from living under the law, and now you live in the freedom that comes from Jesus the savior, who gives you a new life in him. No longer bound under the law, no longer accused of sin night and day. Now, the accuser has been cast down, and Jesus stands in your stead, not only to take your sins away, but to stand before your heavenly Father as an advocate. When the law accuses you, Jesus says, I’ve already taken care of that. I followed that law that was broken, and I paid the penalty for the sin committed. Your sin is taken away, and your guilt atoned for. The Law can now no longer threaten you by saying: “Perfect obedience or death!”
What matters is not how much you resolve to do for God, but what God has promised to do – and has already done – for you. Today is a day of celebration. Jesus in submitting to the law, freed you from the curse of the law. Now, as we enter a new year, you don’t need to worry if you are good enough, strong enough fast enough. You don’t need to worry about how you will impress God with your many mighty deeds. Jesus has already taken care of it. And he gives you this salvation as a gift. He gives you the life that he is. That’s what was given you in baptism. Not that you are placed under a new law, but that you are taken from under the law, and placed under Jesus and his salvation. Salvation is yours. Your heavenly Father has saved you. Whether this year is an easy year filled with great and wonderful blessings, or whether it is a hard year, filled with challenges and the blessing of discipline that God gives to those whom he loves, know that God has already taken care of you. He has already taken care of your sin. He has already given you new life in Christ.
You don’t need to worry about what the new year will bring. Because Jesus already took care of everything that matters. He has given you the freedom to live as a child of God, no longer under the terror of the law, but now freed to live in his light, and in his life. The question is not, as we begin the new year, “What changes do I need to make, and what commitments does God want from me”. The question, is, “Having been freed from the demands of the law, having been saved by Jesus, What do I want to do, now that there is nothing that I have to do?” Go in peace, live in the grace and mercy of God, and of your savior, Jesus Christ.