Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Series B

Sermon on Luke 2:21
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 1, 2012 (The Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Series B)

Today is known in the Church’s calendar as the “Circumcision and Name 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.  Now, 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.  As far as the world is concerned, Christmas is long over.  Both Walgreens and Walmart stopped playing Christmas carols over their speaker systems already on the 26th.  Today is a day for looking forward, for looking at what the new year will bring, for new beginnings.  Looking back even one short week to Christmas, is just not what the world wants to do.  But according to the Church’s calendar the year 2012 started over a month ago, way back on the first Sunday in Advent.  Here in the Church, we are still in the Christmas season.  Today 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 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 worldly people use, especially since even though it has become inaccurate over the centuries, that calendar was originally intended to be based on the date our Savior was born.  I say it’s inaccurate because Christ was most likely born in what according to our current calendar would work out to be 5 B.C., and we’re not exactly sure what day of the year He was born on, either.  But that’s just the way it is.  It’s the calendar that everybody uses, and so we use it too.  We too will be celebrating the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 tonight, either at parties or at home or whatever our plans may be.  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.  Economically, we’re still in fairly bad shape, and that affects our lives, both directly and indirectly, in many, many ways.  Prices are going up (I see it happen daily in the meat department at Walmart), while incomes are not.  Politically, 2012 is a Presidential election year, and what that election will bring us, for good or ill, is anybody’s guess.  And each of us has personal problems and difficulties which may affect us in various ways through the year, whether those be financial problems, difficulties with family members or co-workers, health issues, or any of a thousand other things.

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 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.

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 and prosperity or more wars and more economic chaos and scandal, whether sickness or heath, peace or turmoil in our own personal lives, 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 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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