Date: January 1, 2023
Festival: Circumcision & Name Day of Jesus
Text: Luke 2:21
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21
Sermon Hymn: LSB #898 The Ancient Law Departs
Happy New Year! Or rather, happy Circumcision and Name Day of Jesus! That seems strange, doesn’t it? It makes sense to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on Christmas, just like we celebrate our own birthdays, but to celebrate Jesus’ circumcision? That’s a little odd. Why is Jesus’ circumcision so important for us? Why dedicate a whole day to it in the liturgical calendar? Well, as today begins a new year for us, it is only fitting that we go all the way back to the beginning of humanity to understand the significance of Jesus’ circumcision.
When God created mankind, He saw that it wasn’t just good, but very good [Gen. 1:31]. Yet sometime after that last day of creation, something happened that Jesus would later describe as Satan falling “like lightning from heaven” [Luke 10:18]. Satan rebelled against God. This is not some sort of cosmic dualism between God and Satan that pop culture like to portray where good and evil are the balanced yin and yang of the universe and as if God and Satan are equally matched nemeses and it’s uncertain who will win. No. Although we shouldn’t underestimate Satan’ power, his power is nothing compared to God’s. When he rebels against God, he doesn’t even go toe-to-toe with Him; it’s the archangel Michael who defeats him. So, realising his rebellion was a colossal failure and he is unable to usurp the throne of the Creator, he decides to go after the Creator’s creation. If he can’t triumph against God, the least he can do is ruin creation and take as many humans as he can to Hell with him.
When mankind falls into sin, disorder and chaos spread like a festering wound. Nothing is as it should be—everything is out of place. Being a creature means being limited, and man’s limit was not possessing the knowledge of good and evil, yet the serpent was persuasive. Maybe God didn’t actually say that. Or maybe He was wrong or lying. Maybe He’s being selfish by withholding something from you. After all, if you have the knowledge of good and evil, you’ll be just like God, and God doesn’t want anyone to be just like Him; He wants all the power to Himself. Only one way to find out! So, both the man and the woman eat of the forbidden fruit; this outward act of rebellion was born of the original sin of unbelief, doubting God and His Word, and preferring to be their own gods and therefore their own arbiter of truth and morality. From then on, mankind was permanently changed. The first mass murder was committed: all human beings since then would inherit sin and death. Everything that is wrong with the world—cancer, depression, loneliness, divorce, natural disasters, mass shootings, war, and so many other things—lie at the feet of one man: Adam.
“But it was the woman who was deceived, not Adam,” we might say. Yes, Paul tells us this [1 Tim. 2:14]. Her sin was deception; Adam’s sin was just different. The first thing Satan does is twist the Word of God, and Eve is well-catechised enough not to fall for it at first. Sure, she adds the bit that she shouldn’t even touch it, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s good advice! The problem is not that something was added; the problem is that no one intervened to kick that serpent in the face and send him packing. Thus, as the serpent continues weaving his clever words, Eve is deceived by the words, “You will not surely die,” and is seduced into being her own god. As you read this account, notice Adam isn’t away tending to the Garden somewhere, and he doesn’t walk in the door just a half second too late to stop everything. No, he’s there the entire time. That’s his sin. He stands idly by and lets his wife fall into temptation and unbelief. He abdicates his duty as husband to protect his wife from evil. Rev. Jeff Hemmer calls it “the first science experiment, with Adam in a lab coat and his wife as the guinea pig. Adam will test the veracity of God’s Word with the life of his wife” [Hemmer, 51].
Therefore, the first thing that falls out of order is that mans turns from selflessness to narcissism. Before they fell into sin, Adam and Eve didn’t know they were naked because they didn’t naturally look at themselves but only toward one another and their God. But now, being their own “gods,” where do their eyes turn? Away from each other, away from creation, away from God, and to their own private parts. The nature of sin is to be fixated on yourself. To describe this, Luther would use the Latin phrase incurvatus in se, which means “curved in on oneself.” When nakedness previously didn’t matter one bit, now it’s suddenly the most important thing. Since then, mankind has been obsessed with one’s own private parts—one’s own sexuality, or the love of self—instead of love of God, creation, and neighbour. Since then, everyone is born into narcissistic navel-gazing [Hemmer, 53].
Mankind has also fallen into the disorder of self-preservation. When Adam and Eve hear the sound of God walking in the midst of the Garden, their relationship to their Creator is drastically altered. They run and hide from Him. God didn’t change; He did nothing harmful to them. But they changed, having become God’s enemies because of their desire to be their own gods. Adam and Eve should’ve owned up to their sin, even defend each other against the dire consequences. Instead, they shift the blame onto one another, the serpent, and even God Himself. They no longer care about each other; all that matters now is survival against Almighty God—self-preservation. Thus, what has driven man for all human history is not preservation of our neighbour according to God’s design but preserving ourselves according to our own design.
As punishment for what they’ve done, God dispenses promises and curses. The serpent receives only curses. “Because you have done this,” God says, “cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” [Gen. 3:14-15]. These words are a little strange because the promise of the seed of offspring is usually give n to men, and here it’s given to the woman, but the promise of a Saviour is still the same. From then on, every sexual union between men and women in Israel would season the hope of the Saviour, “the Serpent-Crusher” [Hemmer, 56], or to use Revelation’s imagery, the Dragon Slayer.
Fast forward to Abram, whose name means “great father,” and when the Lord gave him the new name Abraham, which means “father of many.” The Lord promised He would make Abraham into a father of many, despite his wife being barren, and He gave Abraham the sign that He will fulfil this covenant, or promise, in the mark of circumcision. “Circumcision” literally means to “cut around,” and as a pun, whenever the people of Israel would rebel against Yahweh, they would be cut off from Him and Israel. And so, whenever a Hebrew’s son was eight days old, he would be circumcised as the sign that God would fulfil His promise in a son. With every circumcision, everyone would wonder: Is this the son who will crush the serpent’s head? For thousands of years, the people of Israel would wonder if this or that circumcised boy would be the Saviour, until their hope eventually grew thin, and they almost altogether forgot about the promised Seed of the woman.
Then, finally, on an ordinary day in the small town of Bethlehem, a miracle happens. While human beings are trying to be gods, God becomes human, born of the seed of a virgin woman named Mary, whose genealogy goes all the way back to Eve, to whom the promise of the Seed was first spoken. And eight days later, which we celebrate today, the Christ Child is circumcised just like Abraham.
Like His birth, it was just an ordinary day, and His circumcision was just an ordinary Jewish custom. So, why all the fuss about it? Why celebrate the circumcision of Jesus as a feast day? Because of how the sermon hymn puts it, “His infant body now / Begins the cross to feel; / Those precious drops of blood that flow / For death the victim seal” [stz. 3]. On the eighth day of His life, Jesus already bled for you. When He did not need to submit to the Law for His own sake, He submitted to it for your sake, already beginning to fulfil the Law in your place. In this shedding of His blood and the receiving of His name that means, “He will save His people from their sins” [Matt. 1:21], Jesus already begins to suffer the weight of the cross. This shedding of His blood marked Him as the Seed born of woman, the Virgin Mary. The one who was cut into would be cut off from God and His own people Israel as He hung naked on the tree of the cross, outside the holy city Jerusalem, to under the curse of man. Whereas Adam was self-centred and self-preserving, Christ, the second Adam, came not to be served but to serve by putting Himself in the centre of God’s wrath as the ransom for many so that He might preserve you from the curse of eternal death [Matt. 20:28]. That is what we remember this Circumcision and Name Day of Jesus.
We also remember that whereas Jesus received the judgement you and I deserve, you receive His name that means, “He will save His people from their sins.” You will receive His name in the Benediction at the end of the service, just as God said, “So shall they put My name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” [Num. 6:27]. And you received His name in your Baptism, for you were baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [Matt. 28:19]. You’ve received the name of Jesus that saves. The water and blood that came out of Jesus’ side symbolise Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; so, when you receive these, you receive not only His water and blood, but you also receive His name, which saves you from the curse.
Therefore, you no longer have the curse of the Fall but the blessing of Christ’s name, which He set out to do on His circumcision and name day. By faith, He removes the curse and blesses you with His namesake, which is salvation, to keep you in the gift of eternal life. His face shines upon you with grace, meaning He looks toward you with joy. And He lifts His countenance upon you, meaning He turns His whole being toward you with favour, that He might give you peace. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” [Rom. 5:1], to whom belongs all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Hemmer, Jeffrey. Man Up! Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017.