Happy New Year! Your gift is the shortest Gospel in the entire Church Year: just 1 verse. But hardly any other verse of Scripture is filled with so much. It is so much that The Church has sometimes split this reading up over 2 days, for in it we hear 2 distinct things. The Child was circumcised. The Child was named Jesus.
These 2 things were connected for Jewish baby boys. They were named when they were circumcised. The rite was some 2000 years old. God had given Abram this rite and forced him to submit to it before Isaac was born. He gave him the rite a year before, right before he told him Sarai would conceive. This is when he changed Sarai’s name to Sarah and Abram’s to Abraham. For this reason boys were named and circumcised on the same day, as St. Luke reports with both St. John the Baptist and our Lord.
What was the point of circumcision? What a painful thing for Abraham to undergo, especially at the age of 99! But undergo it he did, and so did 13-year old Ishmael and all the other males in the household. From that time on, 8-day old baby boys underwent it, all the way up to Jesus on this day. Ever since then, it’s just been a practice without religious meaning. But to the Israelites there was a very specific meaning.
Adam sinned. But he didn’t just sin for himself. Our sins don’t necessarily cause others to sin. They may not even affect those around us. But Adam’s sin, his very first sin, is different. If affects all of us. As the old chorale (TLH 369:1) sings,
All mankind fell in Adam’s fall, One common sin infects us all; From sire to son the bane descends, And over all the curse impends.
What does that mean? It means when Adam desired to break God’s Law, he turned himself into a sinner. He had been created in God’s image and likeness. He was supposed to pass this down to us. But when he sinned that became impossible. Instead he could only pass down to us his own image and likeness, the image and likeness of sin and death. So you got your looks from your parents, and you got sin and death too.
Enter circumcision. We know how children are conceived. By this cutting off, God was showing that he wanted to cut sin off of us. He wants to free us from sin so completely that we will not sin anymore, will not be sinners, will not be ruled at all by the flesh or the devil. He wants us to be free. And if we are to be free indeed, He has to free us.
Enter Jesus. He is the God-sent Divine Liberator. He comes to liberate us from our sin. He comes to free us from the sin that corrupts us and from the sins we commit in thought, word, and deed. So He is circumcised. God sent His Son, born under The Law, to redeem those under The Law, that we might be His sons.
He was circumcised. But He had no sin. He had no earthly father. He was born of a Virgin undefiled. How could He have sin? Yet He was still circumcised. The Law said He had to be. He was an Israelite boy, and He was the right age. So He submitted to this rite. He humbled Himself to feel the pain of the knife that He had no need to feel. He is without sin, yet He submitted Himself to this rule. Why would the sinless God do this?
You cannot keep His Law. It’s impossible for us. The sinner can’t do anything good, can’t even desire to do anything good. God even says the good we’d do is not so good, because it comes out of an evil heart and might be tainted by desire to get something back in return. Sin infects us all. Sin condemns us.
We can’t deny this. Look back through 2017. Maybe you can think of lots of sins you did. Maybe you can’t think of many. But 1 thing is for sure. You may have covered them up. You may not even have realized how bad they were. But you most certainly had them. Your heart was filled with sinful desires and lusts.
This is the heart and core of Adam’s sin. He did not first sin when he bit the fruit. He sinned when he desired it. Our sins start with sinful desires. You don’t just say a bad thing outta nowhere or because somebody does something to you. You say it because you’re feeling it first. You do it because you wanted to do it first, because malice or wicked intent was in you. You think it because you’re a sinner. You do it because you’re a sinner. It was that way last year and it will be that way this year too. Repent.
Then rejoice. Christ has come to free you from your wickedness and sin. He did this by keeping The Law for you. You haven’t kept that Law, but He did. He kept it 100%, from cover to cover, from A to Z and back again. On this day He declared, “I’m going to keep My Law for you, in your place. This is My pledge and promise to you. I wouldn’t go through this pain and bleeding if I didn’t intend to follow through. My whole life will be devoted to saving you, to rescuing you from sin. I will keep God’s Law. And I will do it for you. I will declare that to My Father. He will no longer see your sins. He will see the good I have done instead when He looks at your account.”
This is His work as Savior. His Name is Jesus, “The LORD Saves.” He is The LORD Who Saves. He saves not just by His Death, but by His Life. By that holy Life, by that precious Death, your sins are forgiven. By that Death your sins are punished and can harm you no more. By that Life your sins are forgotten. By that Death they are nailed to His Cross. By His Burial they are plunged into the depths of the sea so The Father will no longer see them ever again. By His Resurrection you receive His pledge that He did these things for you so that you would live with Him and serve Him free from sin forever.
So let us serve Him now. This life is meant to prepare us for the life to come. Christians do not live life just to enjoy it. We live it to serve our God. We live it to give Him thanks for all He has done for us. He gave His entire life, all 33 years of it, to our salvation. Therefore let this prayer be on your lips (TLH 120:5)
Jesus, be with me and direct me; Jesus, my plans and hopes inspire; Jesus, from tempting thoughts protect me; Jesus, be all my heart’s Desire; Jesus, be in my thoughts all day Nor suffer me to fall away.