Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Circumcision and Naming of our Lord

Sermon on Luke 2:21
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
December 31, 2008 (The Circumcision and Name of Jesus)

Tomorrow is known in the Church’s calendar as the “Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.” It is the day when the Church remembers the fact that Christ our Lord was circumcised according to the Law of Moses on the eighth day of His life, so that He would be subject to the Law in our behalf. But, you say, “I thought that this was New Year’s Eve and that tomorrow is New Year’s Day!” Well, you’re right. According to the world’s calendar, this is the last day of the calendar year, and at midnight tonight a new calendar year will begin. But in the Church, things are a little different. We aren’t of the world, and so we don’t always do things the way the world does them. According to the Church’s calendar the year 2008 started over a month ago, way back on the first Sunday in Advent. Tomorrow according to the Church’s calendar is the eighth day of Christmas. And since Jesus was, like all Jewish boys, circumcised on the eighth day of his life, as well as officially given His name, we celebrate this fact on the eighth day of Christmas, which happens to be January 1. We’re having the service tonight rather than tomorrow morning because that’s the custom here, and besides, it’s easier to get people into church before, rather than after, the New Years parties, myself included. We celebrate the fact that He was put into subjection under the Law of Moses so that He could redeem those who were under the Law. We celebrate the fact that by fulfilling the Law for us He is our Savior, and that is what His name means.

Of course, even though we are not of the world, we still do live in it. We still use the same banks and cars and roads and post office and water and electricity and everything else that those around us use, and we still are subject to the same government rules and regulations. And so in our day to day lives, we Christians use the same calendar that everyone else uses, especially since that calendar was originally intended to be based on the date our Savior was born. Now, it’s true that the people who came up with our current system of numbering years miscalculated, because Christ was most likely born in what according to our current calendar would work out to be 5 B.C. But it’s still supposed to be based on His birth. In any case, it’s the calendar that everybody uses, and so we use it too. We too will be celebrating the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 tonight. And this causes us to reflect back upon the year that has gone by all too quickly and to look ahead and wonder what the future will bring us. Will the congregation call a full-time pastor, whether me or someone else? How do we move forward after Pastor Berg’s sudden resignation? Each of us may have concerns relating to our own health or finances, or both, or the health of loved ones. A man has been elected President who promises to bring change to our nation. What sort of change is he talking about? Is it ultimately going to be a change that’s healthy or unhealthy for us as individuals? What about our state government, and the Senate seat representing us which was vacated by the man who was elected President? What will happen with that particular soap opera? We’re still involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that region of the world continues to be highly unstable, not to mention that violence has once again flared up between the Israelis and Palestinians.

But the festival we celebrate in the Church tonight and tomorrow calls us away from all of this gazing into the past or the future which is so often the subject of New Year’s thoughts and conversations, and calls us to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born into the world to take our place. We have not fulfilled, and cannot fulfill, the Law of God perfectly. If it were up to us we would only earn eternal death and damnation by our sins. But instead, Christ came to take our human nature upon Himself and live a life obedient to the Law so that His innocent death would be the price we deserved. He came to be our substitute, to fulfill the Law for us. And tonight we observe the beginnings of that process, as He is subjected to the first ritual that every Jewish boy had to endure according to the Law of Moses. For Himself, He need not have had to be circumcised, just as for His own sake He did not need John to baptize Him in the Jordan river 30 years later. But for our sake He did these things so that we might be freed from the curse and the guilty verdict that otherwise would have been handed down against us for our sins against the Law.

This was also when Jewish boys were given their names, just as often we think of a baby’s name becoming truly his name before God when that baby is baptized. But the name this child was given is Jesus. Jesus is the Greek way of pronouncing the Hebrew name Y’shua, or Joshua, which means “The Lord Saves.” The entire identity of Jesus was taken up in His purpose. Even the name that He took as a human being witnessed to His divine mission. Even His very name proclaims the blessed Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to us. You see, saving us wasn’t just something our Lord did. It is His identity. He is the Savior. That’s what being God means, that He provides for, and therefore also saves, His people.

It is precisely this, His name, and His fulfilling of the Law of God in the stead of us who have not fulfilled, and can never fulfill it, that gives us comfort, even in these troubled times. Whatever next year brings, whether peace or war, whether prosperity or poverty, whether resolution of our state’s current political drama or further infighting and embarrassment on the part of our elected officials, we are comforted by the knowledge that we have a Savior who has won the victory over all these things. He has given us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. And because we have these things, none of the world’s continuing death throes, whatever form they may take, can truly harm us. And so let us enter the new year boldly and confidently, confessing always the name of Jesus, the Savior. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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