Grace to you and peace, from God, our Father, and our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
21 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.
These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
Any of you familiar with a birth, knows that it is not clean. It is messy, bloody, and painful. As much as this is the case in a sterile hospital room, imagine what it was like for Mary giving birth to Jesus in a barn, with the animals and animal waste, the manger with crumbs from the animals’ feed mixed with their drool. But the nativity scenes and the descriptions in the Christmas carols clean it up a bit. They present to you a very sanitized version of the nativity, where the barn almost seems to a quaint little spot to have a child, and it’s so peaceful that even Jesus, no crying He makes.
But now you can’t really sanitize the circumcision scene. Imagine giving Christmas cards and instead of the nativity scene on the cover there is a depiction of the circumcision of Christ. You have a table, the baby Jesus, and a knife. There is no hiding the fact that this is going to be bloody, and there will be a lot of crying. The image on the bulletin is the tamest that I could find.
But this event of Jesus’ life is very important to His purpose of coming into the world. And certainly His purpose was no walk in the park. He came to save, and it was difficult, it was painful, and it was bloody.
When Jesus was circumcised, He began His active obedience—that is, His keeping the law for us. For the law required Israelite boys 8 days old to be circumcised, and this circumcision was to be a sign of the covenant that God had made with them, that He would bless the Israelites, and be their God. Circumcision was part of the covenant that they were to keep. Through circumcision, they were brought into the covenant relationship with God, being His blessed people. Now Jesus didn’t need the blessings that circumcision gave, for He is God’s own Son. But yet, because it was law that every Jewish boy 8 days old to be circumcised, Joseph and Mary brought Him to be circumcised. And Jesus being circumcised according to the law, began keeping the law in our place. For Scripture says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
And of course Jesus was perfect. He did not sin. He didn’t even have one sinful thought. But it wasn’t easy, for He constantly suffered the temptations, lies, and deceit that the devil threw at Him. Yet through it all, He remained perfect for our sake, that there may be a righteousness that justifies us before God.
Jesus’ circumcision also is the beginning of His passive obedience, that is, His suffering and death for us. On His eighth day, He spilt the first drops of His blood which would redeem us and all the world from sin, death, and the devil. The rest of the payment is the blood He spilt on the cross, and His life which He gave up and commended to His Father in heaven.
Both the active and passive obedience of Christ begins at His circumcision. It is both His active and passive obedience, that is, His keeping of the law, and His shed blood and death, that He wins salvation for us. It is in this way He lives out the name given Him from heaven, Jesus, which means, “The Lord is salvation.”
Through the difficult, painful, and bloody work of Christ, salvation is won!
All those previous circumcisions had pointed forward to the saving work of Christ which began with His circumcision.
But then this brings us to another gruesome scene, a murder scene, you could say. Circumcision was a sacrament of the Old Testament. This cutting off of the flesh no longer has any spiritual significance, for Christ has come. But Jesus has established a new sacrament, the sacrament of baptism, which does great violence toward us. In circumcision there was only a cutting off of the flesh. In baptism there is an actual death that takes place. St. Paul speaks of that most clearly in Romans chapter 6. “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom 6:4-6).
This isn’t symbolic. There is an actual death that takes place. In baptism, your old Adam, your sinful nature, is joined with Christ’s cross and death, and by being joined to the work of Christ’s passive obedience, your body of sin, your Old Adam “is done away with.” Alternatively, it could be translated, “brought to nothing.” The language sounds like some mob boss talking about what should be done with the body of a traitor. Get rid of it! Throw it in the river. This Old Adam is no value to us. We don’t want this corruption, our vices, our weaknesses, our sinful desires. Get rid of it. Throw it in the watery tomb there in the font, to be joined to Christ’s cross and death.
But the font there is also the watery womb, from which the new life springs, being born again by the Holy Spirit, not in the old flesh of Adam, but in the righteousness of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. We are clothed in Jesus perfect righteousness through faith. His righteousness is the righteousness that saves us, the righteousness that makes us the true children of Abraham, and children of God. But also from that life of regeneration borne in us by the Holy Spirit, we also are led by the Holy Spirit to walk in that life of righteousness.
But this gruesome murder scene (and of this scene of new birth) isn’t something that has happened once in our life. It’s not that we get baptized again and again, but we live daily in our baptism through repentance and faith.
The prophets mentioned the Israelites having uncircumcised hearts and ears, though they were circumcised of the flesh. They rejected the gracious promises of God by their unbelief. Because of their unbelief, they would not hear God’s Word, they would not repent, and they would not love Him and trust in Him.
But may the Holy Spirit preserve us in the grace of our baptism. Luther says, “Such baptizing with water means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
God grant this for us in the new year, and always that we may remain in our dear Jesus, who has saved us by His keeping of the law, and His suffering and death for us. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holly Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.