Circumcision and Name of Our Lord
And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
It has to be the shortest appointed Gospel lesson in any lectionary. One, short verse that picks up where we left off eight days ago. For then it was proclaimed by angels to shepherds as they watched by night,
I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger...Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:10-12, 14)
So, while today's lesson may be short, it has a very important lesson: this one born "to you...Savior, who is Christ the Lord" is already at work to save, even at eight days old.
And God said to Abraham: "As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant." (Genesis 17:9-14)
Thus was the Law given proscribing the ritual now being kept in Emmanuel's eighth day. It was the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham, a sign marking the male child of eight days as part of that covenant and, more importantly, a part of the People—God's chosen people. He who was not circumcised was to be cut off from the people, for that male child, eight days or not, has broken the covenant with God—he has rejected God's choice. Moreover, any male wanting to be part of the People must observe this ritual, no matter how old, for it would be a sign that he was a part of the People.
"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons," St. Paul declared (Galatians 4:4-5), as we heard just this past Sunday. Hear it again: "born under the law." Certainly, the Son of God didn't have to be circumcised to be marked as a male person of the People, but He does so anyway, because He was "born under the law." Or, more to the point, He was born to place Himself under the Law because, remember, He was born "to you...a Savior." Therefore, as He was born to you, or for you, He placed Himself under the Law for you—it was His choice, even at eight days old, make no mistake—to keep it perfectly for you, so that you might receive the adoption as sons.
And so, at only eight days old is recorded the Son of God's first shedding of blood—for you—that you might receive the adoption as sons. Of course, we know He goes forth from here to shed His blood for you again. First, as He is in the praetorium, receiving those stripes by which you are healed, being whipped mercilessly to within an inch of His life. Second, as He is pierced, hand and foot, nailed to a cross to die a sinner's death—He who knew no sin—in your place. Finally, as He is pierced, in the side, to confirm His death, when immediately blood and water came out—and these being the new signs that mark the People, for where there is water combined with God's Word and where the blood of God is given in, with, and under the wine, there is His Bride, the Church. Therefore, "because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Galatians 4:6-7)
So, we might want to ask "Why?" "Why was it necessary for the Son of God to be born and place Himself under the Law?" To put it simply, in order to be part of the People, male and female, you had to observe and keep all of God's commands and statues, without fault or guilt, without slipping up in the least, intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly—in a word, perfectly. It's a straight and narrow line; step out of line, even by a fraction of an inch, even if only in what seems to be the most insignificant matter, and you're cut off. There is no wiggle room. Do it, and you're in; keep it, and you stay in; break it, and you're out!
Now, examine yourself. You'll find, whether you know the entirety of God's laws and ordinances or not, that you haven't walked that straight and narrow line. On top of that, because I'm sure not one of you can recite every law and ordinance backward and forward (I know I can't), you can never be sure that you have walked that straight and narrow line. The only thing that you can be certain of is that, for one reason or another, you deserve to be cut off from the People.
Dear listeners, lest you think that being cut off is no big deal, it means to have God turn His back on you, to forsake you, to not know you. Those who are cut off have only eternal damnation and torture to look forward to. When the Creator of the universe doesn't know you, well, that's a bad thing, to put it quite bluntly; there is no bad day now that can compare to the wrath that is to come for one who is cut off.
Now, sure, there is a way to make amends: bring a lamb without blemish to the priest to be sacrificed and be sprinkled with its blood. Every year, there was a Day of Atonement when this sacrifice was made. On that day, the high priest, after a ritual washing away of his own sins, would enter the Most Holy with the blood of a perfect sacrifice to make atonement for the People—so that they could be restored to being the People and enjoy God's favor as the People. And, I would imagine that he would enter the Most Holy with a bit of trepidation, with that voice in the back of his head wondering if he had performed his cleansing ritual just right, cleansing him from all sin, thereby granting him access to the very presence of God without incurring His wrath.
And that, dear listeners, is exactly why the Son of God was born in the flesh—our flesh—and placed Himself under His own Law. Because He only could keep it perfectly, from beginning to end—beginning to end of the Law and beginning to end of His life (and even now!). His perfect obedience to God's Law began at His conception and into His humble birth. And, we see today His first act of obedience as He continues to place Himself under His Law, keeping the ordinance of circumcision—for you, for all of you.
Throughout the year, we'll hear again and again of the Son of God's perfect obedience under the Law of God—every bit of it. For He goes from here, at a mere eight days old, and begins a journey to Jerusalem ultimately to fulfill the sacrifice appointed for the Day of Atonement. Along the way, He is pointed out among the crowd by a man named John who "came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light" (John 1:7) and proclaimed, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) Then, He goes to the cross, where He is pierced—hands, feet, and side—once again shedding His blood, and making atonement for the sins of the world. Furthermore, He is there forsaken by God in your place, as we hear when He cries out, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani." (Matthew 27:46)
He has kept His Law perfectly for you and died for you. He takes your place under His Law that you might receive the benefits of His perfect obedience, and He takes your place under the wrath of God for your perfect disobedience that you might be known to God now and for eternity. He trades your sin for righteousness, a Blessed Exchange, so that you now have the adoption as sons of God. "Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ;" God's riches in Christ are yours, fellow sons of God, be you male or female.
Hear this and know, you are marked with the new sign of the covenant. For here at the font, you were washed clean with water, as flowed from the side of the enfleshed God, combined with His Word, and you have been sprinkled clean with the blood of the enfleshed God, shed for you on the tree of the cross and on this, His eighth day, when He was circumcised, as He had placed Himself under His Law for you! Of this you can be certain, whether or not you can recite the entire Law of God backward and forward; you can be certain because God in His Son has kept it all perfectly for you and given His obedience to you in those waters. Therefore, you are indeed sons of God, be you male or female.
This is something you can take away from this oft-overlooked holy day. It is a day which really nails home the purpose for God being with us, in the flesh...pun intended. It is a point made also in the other thing you can take away from this oft-overlooked holy day: the enfleshed God receives His name: "And when eight days were completed...His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb."
Jesus in the Greek, Y'shua or Joshua in the Hebrew or Aramaic—a name meaning YHWH Saves: that's the other thing to take away from today. YHWH saves...only YHWH can, and only YHWH has in the person of His Son, Jesus the Christ, who has taken on human flesh and blood, and shed that blood and given that flesh over to death for you, saving you.
If you celebrate Christmas, I dare say you have to celebrate this day, the Circumcision and Name of Our Lord. Babies being born is something the whole world can get behind, but when that Baby is the Creator of the universe who takes on flesh and blood in order to spill that blood and give that flesh over to death, it gives meaning and the purpose to the first 20 verses of Luke 2. It's why the networks are ashamed to air Christmas programming that mention Jesus; for while Jesus is the reason for the season, Luke 2:21 is the reason that Jesus is the reason for the season: Jesus is God who has flesh and blood and can shed that blood and bruise that flesh, and does so in order to keep the Law for you and for all.
"He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13) Dear Baptized, you are marked with the sign of the People—the new sign of the people—for at your Baptisms you have received the sign of the cross on forehead and heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and Christ the circumcised and Christ the named. In your Baptisms, you were born of God. There, you received Him and the benefits He gives in His birth, circumcision, crucifixion, and resurrection. You do believe in His name—Jesus, YHWH saves. Therefore,
[y]ou are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Yes, you are children of God, you are sons of God, every one of you, for in Him, in His shedding of blood, in His name, you are forgiven for all of your sins.